Laura Garwood comments

I like Alex and he is the more developed character right now, but I did feel that his internal life and workings could be developed in some spots. I really like the idea of Gort. I have a child with autism, and Gort seems very fitting with his experience when he’s upset—giving that aspect a separate name and even a character are effective. I really appreciate that a main character is on the spectrum, and I think that can be a really great thing for the reader and also add a compelling layer to the story. However, there were a few small points of inconsistency that I found myself stumbling over. For example, I can definitely see Alex freaking out at the library, especially once someone grabbed him, but I thought he would be less likely to demand an interaction (hearing where the story store was) once he was upset, rather than trying to flee interaction.

The Story Store concept and role could be tightened up a bit. When Alex first hears about and then goes to the Story Store, it seems like it’s going to be a magical place that kind of inspires people. But then it operates as a headquarters for the resistance instead, and we lose that feature of it that seemed to be the main point. It’s not that these two modes—HQ and place of fancy—are incompatible, because they aren’t. It really makes sense for a place of intellect and literature to be a place of resisting electronic/technological control. But that’s not quite developed enough. It could help to see more of its original function, with people seeing into seemingly blank books, both in the beginning and in the backstory, and then continuing even when life has become pure survival, and through to the end. How does looking into these books and seeing stories in them help in the fight against Sophie and her fictional broadcasts with harmful effects?

Alex and Sara did not feel like middle schoolers to me (often ages 11–13 at the start of the year, plus or minus a bit). They seemed older (high school), especially with all the driving and such. It’s not impossible for them to be advanced, but we might need to hear their specific ages early on, and perhaps have some disbelief, say, from Alex, when he finds out that Sara is able to drive. You could also consider moving them to ninth grade. We do hear that Alex is 14 late in the game, and I thought that seemed a little old unless this was the end of middle school, but also hadn’t known till then how old he was.

You may need to sit down and sketch out the existing story store/resistance plot arc and then fill some plot and character details in by making notes or an outline, possibly asking yourself some questions—What is this person’s goal? What is this group’s goal? . I like what’s already here, but what isn’t here can make things a little vague or confusing. I like the premise a lot, and enjoyed the suspenseful ending (and the suspense throughout, really).