Stuck between his best friend’s aspirations to take his robotics club to the national competition and his ex-girlfriend’s need for new uniforms for her cheerleading squad, Charlie Nolan, captain of the basketball team though he had it rough, until a phone call from his mother, currently divorced from his father and living in California has some not-so-good news for him. The solution? For these former enemies to join forces and enter a robot rumble to win enough prize money for both. On Thanksgiving Day. What could possibly go wrong?
Review: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Written by Prudence Shen: Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second Books; May 2013
280 pgs., $16.99
With a plot of “the cheerleaders vs. the nerds” as the touted major plot point of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, I didn’t think it would be something to interest me. But when I learned it included battling robots to the death, then it got my attention. While the series starts out with what looks like a typical clique battle, it actually becomes a story about seeing past the clique and communicating with each other—peers and parents alike.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong starts out with the robotics club and the cheerleaders fighting for funding for their respective causes, but it’s really a battle of wills between Nate, the president of the robotics club, and Holly, the head of the cheerleading squad—and laid-back Charlie is caught in the middle. Pressured on both sides, he does the smart thing and stays out of the way as they battle it out. I liked Charlie right from the beginning, when he receives a break-up text from Holly, to his difficulties in dealing with parents who appear to be supportive but aren’t around much. Most of his resentment is directed at his mother, which he shows by passive-aggressively ignoring her phone calls. He really comes off as a troubled teen trying to deal with these emotional problems by basically ignoring them and helping out the robotics team with their battle bot.
For all the words they exchange and scuffles they get into, Nate really is a good friend to Charlie. He goes a little too far in the heat of the campaigning, but he gives Charlie the quiet support he needs when he has parent troubles. He even goes so far as to call Charlie to warn him about his father inviting his mother and her fiance to Thanksgiving dinner. Holly was a good foil for Nate, but my favorite character was Joanna. A member of the robotics club, she loves the robot they have built, The Beast, to the point she fawns over it. She is just as hands-on with building the bot as the boys, if not more, and she becomes the driver in the competition. She’s smart, cute, and tough as nails, just the way I like my female characters.
I absolutely loved the robot rumble. I laughed out loud at the the second bout The Beast participated in. So many of the robots were recognizable from reality TV shows of actual such competitions that I could believe not just the competition, but how far the kids got with it. There were so many times that first-time competitors beat previous winners, that their winning streak was believable, as was their inevitable defeat.
While the robot antics were fun, what really makes this story memorable is the eventual breaking down of barriers; between the robotics club and the cheerleaders, and Charlie and his parents. Holly agrees to help Nate only for a share for the prize money, but she and Nora, her friend, become friends with Joanna at least, and even sympathize with her over the damage to their bot. I really liked the panel when Holly gets into the car and smiles at Joanna as she sits next to her. It was good to see Charlie finally get things off his chest with both his mother and father. He not only tells them how he feels, he finally gets them to listen. Earlier in the story, he tells his father he hates camping, but at the end, his father tries to suggest they go camping, and both Charlie and his mother nix the idea, and his father is still surprised. He heard Charlie’s words earlier, but didn’t listen. By the end, he finally is listening.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a highly entertaining story for teens to adults. My local library had this title flagged for older teens to adult, but other than some gestures and very light suggestive humor, there really isn’t anything inappropriate for a teen. This title has got humor, drama, just a touch of teen angst, and robots killing each other. Really, what more you can you ask for?