Cadel Piggott is only 7 years old when he is apprehended for hacking into the world's extra secure supercomputers, such as the Pentagon in the United States. His adoptive parents take him to see a counselor at the police's suggestion. Cadel quickly learns that Thaddeus Roth is not an ordinary psychologist. Although his parents have banned Cadel from any computer, the counselor calms them that's all right for Cadel to use the one in his office with supervision. Then he leans over and whispers in the boy's ear, "Next time...don't get caught."
Thaddeus encourages Cadel to expand his genius by observing the world. He helps the young boy mature and look at the world around him as more than a computer or a game. Thaddeus also knows who Cadel's birth father is. Since the Piggotts tend to ignore their son in favor of traveling for their jobs, Cadel is excited to find someone who cares for him. It doesn't matter that his father is in prison for life for trying to take over the world.
Over the next few years Cadel skips ahead in school, graduating from high school before he is 14. During that time he learns how to sabotage systems, how to create DNA computer circuitry, create his own on line dating service that is a con, and how to manipulate people from afar. When he finishes high school, Thaddeus suggests a very special university for him.
The Axis Institute presents a good front to the Piggotts. But Cadel quickly discovers that it is a school of deception. The real skills taught include lying, embezzlement, disguise, avoiding the law, poisoning, and other skills his real father believes to be important in life. Now Cadel is earning a degree in evil. What is going to happen to the world once the young genius learns these new skills?
I am of mixed minds about this older children's book. For the first half every message presented is to cheat, manipulate, lie, and screw up the system. During the second half Cadel finally starts dealing with all the evil around him and recognizing the dangers to himself as well as others. By the very end he is making recompense for some of his actions. Good triumphs over evil. But the signals that a child will perceive are mixed.
Catherine Jinks has written a tale that is easy to read. Cadel is a put-upon child whose adoptive parents don't seem to care for him, so he's a loner. It's easy to understand his emotions and frustrations. The story line is imaginative and the Axis Institute is dark. Yet during the first half of Evil Genius I could easily have put it down and walked away. I didn't because I had received a copy for review and had agreed to read it.
The end is twisted and may be harder for the younger child to follow (it is intended for audiences 12 years and older). It seems contrived from the time Cadel is kidnapped until the end. The ending is upbeat, with Cadel learning his lesson and to work with the world rather than against it.
Evil Genius is a readable book. Just make sure the younger reader knows it is make believe and the world wise reader knows that Cadel cannot keep on the way he starts.
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