Bringing Up Mike by Mark Duncan is a coming of age story told in reverse. The main character Joe is in many ways an adult who needs to learn how to be a kid. At the beginning of Joe’s journey he has achieved many of the goals attributed to adulthood: a home of his own, a degree, a job and a “child” (Mike who is an artificial intelligence computer program with the cognitive awareness of a four year old). Joe is, however, seventeen years old and hasn’t really allowed himself to be a reckless kid. He has no friends, pets or family, has never had his heart broken or played with kids his own age.
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At the peak of his career, he takes a sabbatical to experience some of these things he’s missed out on. Having no other human connections, he cyberstalks his online psychiatrist Sue and moves to her small town in Tennessee. As Joe learns what it is to be a kid, Mike learns what it is to be human. In the space of a school year, the two experience tremendous change from their routines and in turn affect the lives of the townspeople.
“He heard a raspy bee-buzzz and saw a small blue winged warbler take flight from a nearby tree. Blue, pink, and purple wildflowers had made their show among the grasses along the trail. The smell of flowers permeated the breeze.”
In reading this novel it is not hard to imagine that the author, Mark Duncan, is much like his character Joe, a CalTech alumni heavily involved in AI. Every subject discussed by the characters is thoroughly detailed as if an expert on the subject were giving a dissertation, even down to geographical locations. Mike has the entire knowledge of the internet at his “fingertips,” and that is exactly how some of the story sounds. The style of dialogue is most noticeable when the characters are discussing something about human nature. Every character seems absolute in their expression of thought, leaving little room for dramatic pauses. This feels like it is an intentional stylistic choice mimicking the format of an interview. These stylistic choices don’t take away from the story. There are moments, especially in descriptions of nature that are quite breathtaking. All in all Bringing Up Mike is a sweet humanitarian story with some unique flare that would be most appreciated by the nerds inside us all.
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