4 out of 4 stars
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Shell Bailey is a girl with a lot going on. She's 11, almost 12, and goes to Sondra Doss Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida. She's the assistant editor for the Sandra Doss Prep website - The Daily Spot (the website replaced the newspaper - go future!) - but the official editor has a recurring role on a sitcom so she's not always around. She also loves writing fiction and reading, and ever since she learned to code at summer camp last year she's become a wiz at programming. Oh, and she models, as if all of that, along with normal homework and such, wasn't enough! She has an older, 10th grade brother named Dana and a younger brother in Kindergarten named Philmont, but he goes by "Philly".
Throughout all of this, she has to deal with her JRA - Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. If she has to walk a lot she needs a wheelchair, but needs to be pushed because otherwise too much pressure is put on her wrists if she attempts to push herself. It's not frequently an issue because she typically knows her limits, but it's something she has to consider at any given moment.
The titular "amazing app" is none other than an app called Pathways. Pathways can "technoport" (she calls it "technoporting" instead of "teleporting" because "anything with tech in it sounds scientific and, thus, possible") Shell anywhere she wants, even fictional worlds. She also writes a "Siri-like" voice command prompt for it that she calls "ARIEL" after her favorite mermaid (her real name is Michelle, but she's gone by Shell ever since she saw The Little Mermaid). ARIEL ends up becoming a character I wish I could see more of, maybe even her own spinoff!
As a former indie game developer, I'll admit the book had me hooked when it started talking about Ruby, Python and C++ (programming languages, although I used a much simpler language myself) and even more when Geocaching was mentioned. It's also a neat touch that she mentions numerous real books and things like reviewing books on Goodreads. I even learned that Elphaba is the name of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz because of a play she's in!
The book really feels like being back in middle school as it's told in first person, with Shell frequently explaining things in her head as if talking to someone, and it genuinely reminded me of my own daughter (who is 13). She gets bored easily, she distracts herself, she likes to talk about the things she's passionate about - writing and coding - and it feels like she avoids the rest when she can. It definitely gets serious at times, however, as things like death, social services, moral dilemmas and even a love triangle are explored (she mentions she learned the term "love triangle" from an online writing course meant for high schoolers). Don't worry, though, the furthest the triangle gets is boyfriend/girlfriend status and closeness, these are 12 year olds after all!
Finally, perhaps most importantly, the book really handles JRA well. It's not just a random disability that was thrust upon her, in fact it's done so well that I'd be surprised if the author, a family member or really close friend doesn't have JRA themselves. While the end could maybe have been better - this is always an issue with books that could seemingly go on forever - and it could've used a little bit of editing (I found less than 10 errors total), I really enjoyed the book, and I think its intended audience (preteen and teenaged girls) would enjoy it even more, so I definitely feel Shell's Amazing App by Courtney Milford is worthy of 4 out of 4 stars. Those who need lots of action may not be a fan though, as the book is mostly realistic and devoid of antagonists or major problems despite Shell's superhero-like coding abilities and app, but it makes for a wonderful, relatable tale.
Shell's Amazing App
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