I entered reading Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine by Ray Kurzweil rather excited to follow a story about a young girl who sets out and attempts to address a number of problems with society, her own intelligence paving the way for her to utilize the ever-advancing progress of technology to better the world for those living in it. I was excited to read the story of a girl who was concerned with some of the very important issues all around the world who actually had a desire to do something about them. It was an especially enticing book due to the fact that Kurzweil was credited as a “legendary inventor and author” and backed up by PBS referring to him as “one of the revolutionaries who made America” and Inc. having the audacity to call him “Edison’s rightful heir.” If that doesn’t strike you as a set of credentials to qualify someone as well worth your time, I don’t quite know what is.
Unfortunately, Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine did not live up to my rather captivated expectations. From the very beginning, I found myself disappointed. Instead of diving into a novel of grand messages and writing, I was presented with an awkward account of a young girl that featured every year of her life, a remarkable and deeply unrealistic life that resulted in a five-year-old arranging her own flight to Washington D.C. where her Aunt lives in order to attend a protest about the mistreatment of immigrants. And while I applaud such action and message, I couldn’t help finding the whole thing rather ridiculous. And I was left utterly baffled as to why the author simply couldn’t have decided to make the main character an age that was a little bit more reasonable. What would be so wrong with starting off at the age of 10 or 12?
But no, instead Danielle was doing rather remarkable and unlikely things at the age of three; the story actually begins with her at age “0” as it is told by her older sister who was adopted from Haiti. Nevermind how problematic it becomes that Claire, the adopted sister, is rather unaware of the issues of the world and Danielle herself literally does become a “white savior” at one point within the novel. I have to admit that, despite understanding why some things were portrayed a certain way, I often found myself cringing.
And this is not to say that the book is all bad. I genuinely do agree with many of the messages Kurzweil is trying to send. I see a lot of good in the idea of younger children thinking about these issues and wanting to work hard to improve them. And I do appreciate that a novel was written in an attempt to develop these ideas within the minds of young readers. With that said, though, I struggled with the poor writing and the unrealistic characterization. I never fully felt able to appreciate Danielle as a character because at every single turn she was presented as this exceptionally wise child with absolutely no child-like qualities (I may be exaggerating a bit here, but really, there were very minimal representations of this girl acting her own age) and the most ridiculous part about it is that most adults never even reach that level of wisdom and understanding of the world.
Ultimately, I found this novel thoroughly frustrating despite my excitement over it in the beginning. I wish it had been better written, as the messages are the sort that I genuinely do want to be presented to young readers. I am certain that I would not have cared for this book as a child and teenager as it reads much more like a collection of events in a person’s life rather than an actual story and I probably would have found Danielle painfully ridiculous as I have a younger brother who would have been around her age at the time. Perhaps a young audience will benefit from it, and I am thinking of the age that I wish Danielle had started out as–somewhere from 10 to 12–but even then I’m not sure if it will engage interest throughout the whole novel. As it is, I struggled to finish it.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.