The Great Destroyers

Scholastic. Aug. 2021. 400p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338266740.
Gr 8 Up–In this alternative history, where there are no nuclear weapons, the United States and USSR are still locked in Cold War. The weapon of choice for all nations is the mecha, large mechanical soldiers, that are also used for entertainment. Young mecha pilots fight in a caged ring for the glory of their nations at the Pax Games. The USSR has beaten the U.S., but young mecha pilot Jo Linden hopes to change that. Most don’t take her seriously but Jo is determined to take the champion title for her country. However, the Pax Games aren’t free from political intrigue, as Jo soon discovers that they are just another global chess match between two superpowers, and she might be a pawn. The mecha soldiers are an intriguing and fun premise expertly blended into real American historical events. Richmond expertly draws readers in with protagonist Jo, a white-passing, mixed-race Chinese American woman trying to be accepted in a white, male-dominated sport. Despite being alternative history, the prejudices Jo experiences are real and explored in depth. Jo must constantly play the part of the ideal “American Girl,” when she is not. Part of the plot includes international politics that some readers may find distracting from Jo’s experiences. Overall, readers will find the plot engaging and thrilling. Perfect for established fans of Richmond and fans of Andrea Tang and Axie Oh.
VERDICT A must-have novel about a robot fighting competition that explores America’s historical racial injustices.

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