After years of being homeschooled, Zoey McIntyre is about to become an eighth grader at Hawthorne Middle School. She’s more than a little anxious about it, since she doesn’t exactly have friends or really know how to have friends, but her parents are sure she’ll fit in just fine. They don’t know she’ll be relying on help on the app she’s been secretly developing. In The Cool Code written by Deirdre Langeland with art by Sarah Mai, we follow along with Zoey and her eventful first few months at her new school.
The daughter of two coders, twelve year old Zoey (or Zonut, as her dad lovingly calls her) grew up with technology in the forefront. For every problem, there’s a possible solution in an app. She created Cool Code to help her navigate the world around her and middle school is putting it to the test. Throw in C.C., the adorable llama mascot of Cool Code and Zoey’s voice of influence, and it’s a recipe for popularity!
At Hawthorne, Zoey meets David and Morgan, the members of the coding club. When they learn about her app and vast knowledge of coding, they decide to work together to make it the perfect solution for the problem of fitting in in middle school. They devour every bit of media about what it means to be cool and popular to program the app to be unstoppable. But when C.C. 2.0 turns out to be a complete monster, focused only on popularity and actively hurting Zoey’s new friendships, she discovers that programming doesn’t always have the answers for real life.
One of the main takeaways from The Cool Code is that sometimes you have to do what’s right for you, not what the algorithm says. This message has the potential to be very important to young readers who feel the temptation and influence of social media apps in their daily lives. Zoey finds herself not fitting in but getting by, as she says, all because she is only doing what C.C. tells her is worth doing. Langeland’s writing doesn’t come off as preachy here; instead, the absurdity of C.C. and how far out the story goes works to get the message across clearly.
Zoey’s parents become background characters as the book progresses. They are so into their latest coding project that she finds them progressively distant and straight up ignoring her. The resolution at the end of the book and the honesty Zoey shares with her mother may inspire readers who find themselves with parents who are inseparable from their desks, even if they aren’t even leaving the house to go to work.
The Cool Code has a very distinctive art style that is very bright and vivid. The characters’ facial expressions are so strong, we can tell what they’re thinking without even reading the words on the page. Mai’s art style is another element that makes this book stand out, it is something different in the world of middle grade graphic novels.
Kids struggling to make sense of fitting in or those dealing with anxiety will find themselves wrapped up in The Cool Code. It will also be an appealing read for fans of Kayla Miller’s Click series and Terri Libenson’s Emmie and Friends series. It also would work great in book clubs and for group discussions.
The Cool Code
By Deirdre Langeland
Art by Sarah Mai
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)