Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Digit Digs the Code: Double Digit by Annabel Monaghan

The vibe in the big lecture hall was unlike any class I'd ever been in. It wasn't until the class was over than I figured out what the difference was.

Every single student wanted to be there. I mean, every one of them had busted their butts to get into MIT, and, just like me, they felt like this class was a reward for their hard work. I could feel my cells accelerating throughout my body, like I was super-alive. We were being fed by that lecture.

I looked around that lecture hall and thought: These are my people.

Farrah (her actress mother loved Charlie's Angels) Higgins acquired her nickname "Digit" in middle school, where her genius math skills and compulsive overreaction to asymmetrical objects made her a pariah among her peers. When the family moves to Santa Monica, she determines to become an undercover math whiz, agreeing to inflate the system's scores in return for anonymity in class. For four years Digit hides her numerical acumen, blending in with girls whose prime obsessions are tennis togs and the hottest guy on the football team, keeping to her motto: Never say whomever even if it's right! All is well until an unintended little run-in with eco-terrorist Jonah Furnis and a faux kidnapping by the FBI blow her cover as typical teen.

But all that is behind her, Digit thinks, as she begins her long-awaited early admission at MIT and feels that she's finally where she fits in. The three robot-building hackers down the hall adopt her right away, her arty roommate Tiki takes her under her garishly-garbed wing, and she's looking forward to the first weekend of the semester when her FBI boyfriend, John Bennett, is coming up to visit. But then, while she's doing some research for a professor's project, she impulsively hacks into the Department of Defense's system to download some data to save time for a toga party and  she finds herself a potential felon. Then, doing research deep in the library's basement stacks, something else happens that doesn't fit into Digit's carefully coveted pattern of normality.

When the stairwell was three feet ahead of me, I picked up my pace because I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  Moments later an arm wrapped itself around my neck. The body behind me was huge... the right forearm was all he needed to dominate me. That, and the left hand that pressed a small knife against my throat.

"You don't want me!" I squeaked. "The only guy I could identify has been caught. There's no reason to kill me. I have a job interview on Monday...."

"Good news, little one," he growled. "No one's going to kill you today. Jonas Furnis wants you, and he wants you alive. No need for a job interview--we have an excellent job, and it's all yours. For as long as we let you live."

The mad-scientist, evil-genius, uber-ecoterrorist Jonas Furnis needs her awesome algorithmic skills and has decided that in his crazed conception of environmental action as a vast chess game with the world, Digit must be his appointed squire. And when John, the CIA, and FBI try to rescue her, she finds her brain and her code-breaking skills the only bulwark that can save Manhattan, Disney World, and ultimately her own MIT dorm from explosives for which only Furnis knows the code. Between that and a romantic triangle involving the loving but conflicted John and the seeming-soulmate appeal of her hunky RA, Bass, Digit's first semester of college is not at all the hoped-for predictable pattern, in Annabel Monaghan's second book about her digital genius,Double Digit (A Girl Named Digit) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

Sequel to her A Girl Named Digit, this book provides fast-paced action and an unusually self-aware protagonist that even math haters will love. Monaghan's narrative style is both witty and suspense-sustaining, and the scenes in which Digit cracks the deadly duo of quirky codes to disarm her antagonist's evil explosives are nailbiters, despite the fact that the author is clever enough to foreshadow both passwords so that some readers may come up with them along with her. The story ends with Digit, sentenced to a three-month detention for hacking the DOD, climbing into Air Force One to discover what secret code-breaking mission she must carry out to pay her debt to society. With that as a teaser, along with the presumed choice between her two handsome admirers, the next sequel will be doubtless be greatly anticipated. A quick, quirky, and quite satisfying comedic thriller/love story on a timely subject right off the front page.

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