The Cool Code by Deirdre Langeland, illustrated by Sarah Mai (Clarion Books, 2022), is an amusing graphic novel about a formerly homeschooled eighth-grader who creates an app to help her be “cool” in her new school. Zoey enters school worried about how to make friends, and in the end, she finds the true meaning of friendship even without her app coaching her.
Zoey’s “Cool Code” app, which features a llama avatar Zoey nicknames C.C., gives her pointers on what to wear, who to talk to, how to act, and more. Since Zoey has coded it herself, however, it doesn’t seem to help her be as “cool” as she should be. With her new friends Zoey and Daniel from the computer programming club, Zoey finds ways to program the app by comparing styles and behaviors to “cool” ones found online and in popular movies. The now well-programmed C.C. tells Zoey to do all sorts of things she wouldn’t normally be comfortable with, such as running for student council and talking to everyone in the room. It’s a good thing the app tells her what to say each minute! It’s working!
In the end, The Cool Code becomes an amusing commentary on popularity and cliques in a middle school. Zoey stops being okay with the app when it actually tells her to avoid being with her actual friends, Morgan and Daniel. It turns out that being popular with everyone is not fun, because then there are no close friendships to enjoy. Zoey does come to the realization that it’s better to just be yourself and find people who like you for you.
The graphic novel format is great with this story. The app’s llama spokesperson, C.C., is illustrated with pastel rainbow-and-unicorn colors, and she bursts out of Zoey’s phone as a character with her own personality. We see the expressions on Daniel and Morgan’s faces and so we can see how they feel about Zoey’s changing popularity.
From this brief description, it sounds like it is a didactic message about being a friend and finding friends. But with the over-the-top and exaggerated story, The Cool Code does not sink into a maudlin lecture. Instead, it is just funny.
Note: I received a digital review copy of this book.