Sixth graders Ashley and Maya love being on the staff of their school’s daily online news program, Ash as reporter and anchor, with Maya behind the camera. When an error in judgment involving some embarrassing footage of a teacher is broadcasted live, it results in Ash and Maya losing their news staff positions, leaving rivals to take over their coveted spots. The two, along with a friend, Brielle, whose forte is editing videos, decide to write and broadcast their own news show instead. Setting up a rudimentary studio in Ash’s basement, the new news team, now calling themselves the Renegade Reporters, hope to produce a show that will rival and perhaps surpass the official one at school.
Diligent research and reporting by the Renegade Reporters gradually uncovers corruption perpetrated by Van Ness Media, the conglomerate that is the sponsor of the school’s news show in addition to being the supplier of much of the software used by the school. The members of the renegade crew are inquisitive, courageous, and motivated. They gradually become aware of the fact that large companies are tracking every location they attend, every move they make, every site they browse online.
Ash realizes that many of the products her family buys are the result of ads targeted specifically to them. During an outdoor Rosh Hashanah service she attends with her family, she begins to understand that a corporation tracking her family can know not only that they celebrate Rosh Hashanah, but also exactly which service they attend. She and her friends learn much about personal privacy and its formidable challenges in today’s society. They begin to understand that while many aspects of technology are beneficial, others are an invasion of privacy and may be used for nefarious purposes.
The efforts of the Renegade Reporters to break the story and uncover the truth behind the Van Ness Corporation’s shady practices lead to an uproar within the school, where it appears that powerful corporate forces will win the day against a gutsy and valiant group of students who want to expose them. Ashley, Maya, Brielle, and their friends need to stay on their toes, find creative solutions to their problems, and remind themselves of what is truly important.
In addition to the aforementioned Rosh Hashanah connections, Yom Kippur is treated thoughtfully and substantively, and it provides a filter for Ash to assess and evaluate much of what she sees around her. Her friends are a diverse group, and her two dads, along with a younger brother and sister ‚present an appealing portrait of a warm, caring family.
Weissman adds a thoughtful author’s note explaining more about the digital privacy issues that affect our lives.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.