'The School for Whatnots' Book Club: Day 1

By: Shanleigh Klassen
“No matter what anyone tells you, I’m real.”

Welcome everyone to the OwlCrate Jr Book Club Read-Along for The School for Whatnots by Margaret Peterson Haddix, featured in our our March 2022 REAL FRIENDS box. This story is a fast-paced page-turner with an incredible mystery centered around a life-changing friendship.

Here is our reading schedule:

  • April 11 ⁠— Chapters 1 - 24
  • April 13 — Chapters 25 - 46
  • April 15 — Chapters 47 - Epilogue

This averages out to about 50 pages per day from now until Friday. If this is too much to fit into your day, no need to fret! Feel free to read at your own pace and come back when you're ready to discuss.

And just a friendly reminder that this will be a spoiler discussion for pages 1-99 of The School for Whatnots. Discussion questions are listed below, and anyone who participates in the comments will be entered to win a free OwlCrate Jr box, one per post!

Our Story Begins . . .

. . . with Max, a boy born into a loving, incredibly rich family. But Max’s mother worries that because her son has been born into extreme privilege, he’ll be surrounded by greed rather than love his whole life. She proclaims that to avoid her son becoming a spoiled brat, he’ll grow up not around children, but whatnots.

To put it plainly, whatnots are robots designed to look and act so much like humans that no one can tell the difference. The rich order them in droves for their children, to the point where whole systems have been put in place where wealthy children will grow up alongside these perfectly poised whatnots to save them from becoming horribly selfish people. But the children don’t know this.

On the first day of kindergarten, Max meets Josie and they instantly become best friends. Fast forward six years and it’s the last day of the fifth grade. Josie is acting odd, saying how she and Max may not be going to the same school next year. Before she leaves, Josie tells Max, rather cryptically, to find a way around the whatnot rules. Later that night, Max discovers a mysterious note in his room that reads: “No matter what anyone tells you, I’m real.”

You see, Josie is not a whatnot.

Josie was born on the same day as Max, but her mother died in childbirth. Josie’s inconsolable father was taken to meet a mysterious shadowy figure who offers him and Josie an opportunity: Josie will pretend to be a robot and live secretly in Max’s school. Once Max ages out of the whatnot system, she’ll return to living with her father, having received a great education and with the chance of a better life.

Not understanding what Josie is trying to tell him, Max sneaks out to what he believes is Josie’s home. Of course, he doesn’t find her. His family’s limo appears just then, but the driver is an unfamiliar, shadowy person. When they arrive back home, Max’s parents decide it’s time to tell Max the truth: that all his schoolmates — including Josie — have been robots this whole time. Max refuses to believe them and swears he’s going to find Josie for real.

Meanwhile, Josie is adjusting to being back with her father. Though she loves him dearly, she’s also struggling with the fact that she’ll never see Max again. Just then, Josie sees a whatnot named Ivy outside her home. Catching up with her, Josie discovers Ivy is just like her — a human who’s been pretending to be a whatnot. Josie and Ivy agree to meet up again in secret. The next day, as Josie is trying to sneak into Ivy’s building, she’s suddenly grabbed by not two hands, but four.

As the story unfolds, an unknown, yet all-knowing narrator talks directly to the reader. Though they seem to know everything about Josie and Max, Ivy’s reveal surprised even them . . .

Discussion questions:
  1. Max and Josie are very different people, yet they’re the best of friends. In your opinion, what qualities are the most important in a friend?

  2. What are your thoughts on the whatnot system being used to protect rich children from other real-life children?

  3. On Josie’s first night in the school, her activities are noticed by guards monitoring security cameras, saying “she could be the one” and purposefully placing her next to Max. What do you think this means for Josie? What do you think this means for Max?

What a cliffhanger to leave off on! Make sure you join us again on Wednesday as we discuss chapters 25 - 46 of The School for Whatnots.

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