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Rabbit & Robot


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About The Book

“This provocative jaunt…dissects society, technology, othering, and what makes humanity human.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An unpredictable, gross, and prescient rumination on modernity, media consumption, and machine-aided communication.” —Booklist (starred review)

Told with Andrew Smith’s signature dark humor, Rabbit & Robot tells the story of Cager Messer, a boy who’s stranded on the Tennessee—his father’s lunar-cruise utopia—with insane robots.

To help him shake his Woz addiction, Billy and Rowan transport Cager Messer up to the Tennessee, a giant lunar-cruise ship orbiting the moon. Meanwhile, Earth, in the midst of thirty simultaneous wars, burns to ash beneath them. And as the robots on board become increasingly insane and cannibalistic, and the Earth becomes a toxic wasteland, the boys have to wonder if they’ll be stranded alone in space forever.

In Rabbit & Robot, Andrew Smith, Printz Honor author of Grasshopper Jungle, makes you laugh, cry, and consider what it really means to be human.


Rabbit & Robot Tyger Tyger, Burning Bright
Is that a fucking tiger?” Billy Hinman asked.

“I think it is a fucking tiger,” I said.

I’ll admit that I had never seen a fucking tiger before.

It was certainly a day for checking things off Cager Messer’s infinite list of things he’s never done.

“An actual fucking tiger,” Billy whispered.

Even when you’re a half mile away from a tiger and you’re standing naked and chest deep in the middle of a lukewarm fake lake, it is an atavistic human instinct to make as little noise as possible.

“I think the Zoo of Tennessee must have broke,” I theorized.

“What the fuck are we going to do?” Billy said.

“I have no plan.”

“Cager? Do you know what that is?” Parker hollered.

Parker had been hiding up in the branches of a fake pine tree. It could have been a cedar. I don’t know anything about trees. He’d been watching me and Billy swim.

Since I didn’t want to draw the tiger’s attention to us, I decided to think about things for a while.

So Billy offered, “You should tell Parker it’s a tiger, and tigers are friendly, and that he should climb down from the tree and give the tiger a hug because tigers love to be hugged by horny teenagers. That way, while the tiger is distracted by clawing the fucker to pieces, we can make a run for it.”

“But what about our clothes?”

Our clothes were scattered on the shore beneath the tree where Parker was hiding.

“Cager. It’s a fucking tiger,” Billy told me.

For some reason, ever since I’d been forced off Woz, my best friend, Billy Hinman, did make a lot of sense at times.

“I can’t tell Parker that,” I whispered.

“Why not? He’s a fucking machine.”

“I know that. I just can’t, is all,” I said. And, yes, I felt stupid and embarrassed for as much as confessing to Billy Hinman that I had some measured feeling of empathy—or maybe even friendship—for Parker, who was, after all, just a fucking machine.

So I continued, “Besides, the tiger is just a machine too, right? It’s a cog. It won’t do anything to us.”

“What do you mean by us?” Billy said.

Damn all this clarity.

“Well, he’s not supposed to do anything to us.”

“You mean you.”

“Are you daring me to get out of the water and tell the tiger to go away?” I asked.

“Not at all. You should make Parker do it,” Billy said. “You said it yourself, Cager: The tiger’s just another cog. And cogs don’t eat cogs, right?”

That was becoming increasingly debatable on the Tennessee.

The Tennessee had been going to shit, and neither of us had any idea how to stop it from spiraling completely out of control. Worse yet, Billy and I were alone; we were stuck here.

Parker, who was my personal attendant on the Tennessee, called out, “Can you hear me, Cager? What is that thing with stripes and orange hair? Do you know? Will he be kind to me?”

I waded in a little closer to shore, but only about three steps. Then I backed up one. I tried to make my voice as normal sounding and calm as possible. There was no need for me to shout at Parker, because the guy did have pretty good hearing.

“How did you get up in the tree?” I asked him.

But Parker had to yell for me to hear him clearly, which certainly agitated the tiger, who clawed at and chewed on the pants I’d dropped beside the lake. “I floated up here, two days ago when the gravity turned off. The thing with the stripes who is eating your pants right now has been walking around here in Alberta ever since.”

When the Tennessee’s gravity failed, all the animal cogs must have gotten out of the zoo.

A zoo without gravity can easily become a battlefield for clashing survival instincts.

The tiger chewed and chewed.

“Tell him to stop eating my fucking pants,” I said.

I was mad!

And Parker, being the rigidly programmed horny but obedient valet cog that he was, said, “You! Thing! Stop eating Cager Messer’s fucking pants!”

And the tiger, being the rigidly programmed large predatory cat cog that he was, snorted and growled, shook my pants wildly in his teeth, and ripped them to shreds.

“Bad idea,” Billy whispered.

“Fine. Now I don’t have any pants. Stupid fucking tiger.”

“Tigers are dicks,” Billy said.

“I think I should wait up here in the tree for a few more days, Cager,” Parker said.

“It’s only a tiger, Parker.” But I wondered when—if ever—in the history of humankind, anyone had ever said It’s only a tiger. “But he’s a cog. He won’t do anything to us. Watch. I’ll show you so you can climb down from the tree.”

Then I cupped my hands around my mouth, forming a megaphone with my fingers, and said this: “Attention, tiger! You need to go back to the zoo immediately! My name is Cager Messer, and my father owns this ship! Do you hear me? I am Anton Messer’s son, Cager, and I am telling you to return to the zoo!”

And that was when the tiger ate Billy Hinman’s pants too.

No animals, not even fake ones, like being in zoos.

Billy Hinman said, “Plan B: Cager and Billy stay naked in the lake for the next five days, waiting for a fucking tiger to die of boredom.”

What could I say? I never had a Plan A to begin with.

Fortunately for us, we did not have to wait five days in the lake. Something else, which was enormously tall, judging by the rattling and swaying of the fake cedars or pines—or whatever—that didn’t grow or photosynthesize on the recreation deck called Alberta, came crashing toward the lake through the woods.

It was another refugee from the Tennessee’s compromised zoo: a giraffe. The thing’s head, nearly as high as the branch Parker sat on, came crashing through the canopy of Alberta’s fake forest.

And Parker yelled, “Cager?”

What did he want? I refused to be my horny cog’s fucking safari guide.

“Giraffes are nice, right?” I whispered to Billy.

Billy nodded. “And they’re bisexual.”


“They really are,” Billy said. “Totally bisexual. They’re, like, the greatest animals ever.”

“How do you know that?”

Billy shrugged. “I just do.”

The giraffe stopped at the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the trail from where the tiger continued thrashing Billy Hinman’s pants. The giraffe looked directly at Billy and me. He cocked his head slightly, as though waiting for one of us to say hello or something.

Also, I may as well admit this: I had never seen a giraffe before. It was very tall. And I was terrified of it too.

“Would you boys like to climb up onto my back, so I can carry you out from the lake?” the giraffe said.

He had a French accent.

“That giraffe is from France,” Billy said.

“Why the fuck would your dad make a French giraffe that talks?”

“I think the more important issue is why he would make a fucking tiger that eats pants,” Billy said.

The tiger thrashed and thrashed.

“Bonjour, les jeunes garçons! My name is Maurice,” the giraffe said. And if giraffes could smile, Maurice was smiling at us. “But, please, let me offer you boys a ride on my back. The Alpine Tea House serves magnificent waffles. It’s just over there, at the bottom of the hiking trail. Are you hungry? J’ai très faim. Heh heh . . . I am, as you say, very hungry.”

Cogs were not supposed to get hungry. Ever. Something had been twisting out of whack on the Tennessee.

“He seems really nice, and I love waffles,” Billy said.

“Billy, I am naked. There’s no fucking way I’m riding naked on a bisexual talking giraffe to go get waffles with you,” I argued.

And Billy countered, “Cager, like you said: It’s an opportunity for you to do one of those things you may never get a chance to try doing ever again. Who’s ever gotten to ride naked on a giraffe to go get some breakfast?”

As it turned out, Billy Hinman and I did not need to carry our argument to any definite conclusion. Maurice, being the hungry French giraffe that he claimed to be, became fascinated by the tiger, who had finished eating Billy’s pants and had moved on to his next course, which was my T-shirt.

Maurice looked at Billy and me, then apologetically said, “Excuse me. Excusez-moi, s’il vous plaît.”

Maurice spread his front legs wide and stiffly lowered his head toward the oblivious tiger, who was apparently an expert at sorting laundry and was now eating Billy’s T-shirt and socks.

Maurice cocked his head back and in one powerful thrust stabbed his pointy giraffe face directly through the tiger’s midsection.

Maurice made a sound like Mmmph mmmph mmmph! as he wriggled his face deeper inside the tiger’s body, gulping and slurping the internal components of the cat’s mechanization.

Billy Hinman said, “Okay. I take back the thing about him being the greatest animal ever.”

And the tiger, who had no discernible European accent, said, “Ow! That fucking hurts! This is all there is to life, isn’t it? Sadness and pain.”

The tiger wept and sobbed as great gushing blobs of viscous, semenlike hydraulic fluid burped from the gaping holes Maurice pierced in his torso.

Maurice ate and ate as the tiger cried and cried.

Maurice burbled, “Cette viande de tigre est délicieux!”

Four or five days in the lake was starting to look like a pretty good idea.

Parker shouted, “Cager, what do you suggest I do now?”

“Tell him to ride the giraffe,” Billy whispered.

And the tiger wailed, “Sartre was right—I cannot escape anguish, because I am anguish!”

Mmmph mmmph mmmph! went Maurice.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Rabbit & Robot

By Andrew Smith

About the Book

Kidnapped by his best friend Billy, sixteen-year-old Cager Messer boards one of his father’s luxurious cruise ships, the Tennessee, currently orbiting the moon. What begins as a rescue mission to help Cager overcome his Woz addiction quickly turns into a sensational journey fraught with ridiculous antics and sexual tension. Cager and Billy, misfits marginalized by their positions of privilege, join a zany cast of eccentric cogs—mechanized machines appearing as almost-human caricatures or irritating beasts. By way of uninvited blue alien shapeshifters, a worm begins infecting the cogs, turning them into insane, unrestrained, cannibalistic lunatics. The humans on board, including two female stowaways, must find a way to escape and return safely to earth. With absurd leaps of imagination, this delightfully preposterous futuristic fantasy encourages the reader to question what it is that makes us human, and what that means to each of us.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think of the book’s cover design? What does it immediately suggest? Did it make you want to read the book?

2. An overarching tone of absurdity balances several underlying weightier themes. What are some of the recognizable, deeply rooted themes in this novel?

3. Cager’s first-person narrative reveals his thoughts and motivations. Do you find Cager’s voice to be relatable?

4. Cager’s best friend takes him on the Tennessee to help save him from his Woz addiction. To what lengths would you go to help a friend overcome an addiction or deal with a tough situation? How do you think you’d respond?

5. Cager trusts Billy because Billy never lies to him. Is this trust mutual? Do you think we should be held accountable for the well-being and actions of others? Why is it important to have people in your life whom you can trust or depend on?

6. Why do you think the author chose to open the novel with a scene taken from the middle of the story? When you came upon it midway through the book, did you have a different reaction to its tone?

7. Do you think Cager’s assessments of himself are accurate? Explain your reasoning. To what extent do you allow labels to define you or your friends? What are the consequences or results of doing this?

8. Referring to the poem “Anecdote of the Jar” by Wallace Stevens, the author suggests the boys are symbolically trapped in an empty jar on the Tennessee. Have you ever felt trapped? By what or by whom? In what ways? Discuss.

9. Why do you think Cager was infatuated with Lourdes? Why do you think Cager found Milo endearing? What humanlike characteristics do Lourdes and Milo have? How would you respond to them? What purpose do Lourdes and Milo serve in the story?

10. How does the author present the diversity of sexual identity differences in the novel?

11. Name some of Meg’s personality traits. What does Cager admire most about her? Why do you think Meg was so reluctant to open up to Cager? What effect does this have on him? Discuss how their relationship changes throughout the story.

12. What distinguishes Parker from the other cogs? Why do you think Cager changes his opinion of Parker? What insights does Cager gain about himself from his experiences with Parker?

13. What hints did the author offer to suggest Rowan’s true nature as a cog? Why do you think Cager and Billy were oblivious to these hints? Do you think Rowan should have disclosed his identity to the boys sooner? Explain your reasoning. How much of your true self do you reveal to others? How much do you think others reveal to you?

14. Both Cager and Billy face multiple fears on their bizarre journey on the Tennessee. Discuss one or two of these fears. Do you sympathize with Cager and Billy? Have you ever had to confront your fears and do something you didn’t think you were courageous enough to do? What was the result? What advice would you give someone about facing their fears?

15. What do we learn about Jeffrie? How does this discovery impact the story? What is her role in this adventure?

16. How does the author present authority figures? Consider the behavior of Captain Myron, Dr. Geneva, Reverend Bingo, and Queen Dot. How do their actions affect the story? What does this suggest to you?

17. The book poses the idea that “an army begins with one.” Describe the visible and invisible worms. What greater meaning does the infestation suggest?

18. What does the author suggest by saying that wars don’t just fight themselves? What does this mean to you? Can you think of other examples in our history where this is the case?

19. Humorously absurd images of festering decay, deterioration, degradation, and barbaric atrocities are prevalent in the novel. Explain Smith’s purpose as he makes use of these bizarre images. How do they relate to the novel’s themes?

20. Consider the emotional struggles of humiliation, shame, loneliness, isolation, vulnerability, and helplessness in the story. Why do you think the author includes these in the narrative? How do the characters use emotions to help them connect or make decisions, and how do these emotions hinder them?

21. Which aspects of the story were most engaging, disturbing, grotesque, corrupt, humorous, clever, ludicrous, or heartwarming to you? Discuss.

22. In your opinion, what were Cager’s, Billy’s, Meg’s, Rowan’s, Parker’s, and Maurice’s greatest moments? Discuss the reasons for your decisions. Which scenes and characters did you relate to most? For what reasons?

23. A philosophical tiger cog quoted Sartre, saying, “‘I cannot escape anguish because I am anguish.’” What do you think this means? How does this concept relate to Cager’s eventual realization that “Meg’s code didn’t just unlock the lifeboats; it unlocked everything. Meg Hatfield’s code was the lifeboat in itself”? What was Meg’s code? How did it prove a turning point for Cager in his journey toward a new understanding of himself and his actions?

24. How does your impression of Cager change throughout the story? In what ways does Cager find the freedom to be who he really wants to be? Do you think he’s ready to move forward and lead a meaningful and fulfilling life?

25. Think about the book’s audience. To whom might this type of narrative appeal? What kind of culture is reflected? How did you feel riding the Tennessee on this elaborately insane journey?

26. Was this book meaningful to you? Do you see life differently after reading it? Did it cause you to think about certain people differently? If so, how might this affect your approach to people or situations in the future? Discuss.

27. Putting all the zaniness and over-the-top-antics aside, what is at the heart of this story? What advice might Cager from the end of the book give to Cager at the beginning of the book?

28. Would you recommend Rabbit & Robot to a friend? For what reasons? Craft a one-sentence tagline for the book.

Extension Activities

1. The subtext of Rabbit & Robot can be interpreted and experienced on several levels. Some may see it as a satire with unmistakable undertones that examine technological, sociocultural, political, and educational concerns. Others may consider it to be a symbolic allegorical tale about mental illness, familial relationships, the corruptions of human nature, and addiction in its many forms—or it could be viewed as a parody that imitates and exaggerates these concerns. Others may consider it to be an extended didactic parable with universal truths and lessons of a moral nature. Still others may enjoy it merely as a fantastic wild ride for pure amusement and entertainment. What is your opinion of using these literary devices to explore the book? Do you feel these analyses to be useful? How did you experience the story? Discuss with your peers. Consider taking one memorable scene and comparing your classmate’s various interpretations and themes.

2. In an interview, Andrew Smith suggested he felt like he was trapped inside a machine floating in space with a bunch of insane robots, and then came to realize the machine he was trapped inside was social media, and he felt compelled to write about it. On the surface, the use of social media provides us with a sense of community and important resources for making connections. However, an increased need for social media may actually sabotage its benefits. To what extent do you think social media use replaces real-life experiences? Is it a satisfying substitute for real-life friendships? Do you feel like your social media persona matches how you act in the real world? Do you find that the more you use social media, the more you depend on it? How might this dependence relate to other addictive behaviors? Discuss with your peers.

3. It's been reported that frequent social media use rewires the developing teenage brain to constantly seek out immediate gratification. For current research on social media addiction, read “Looking for ‘Likes’: Teens and Social Media Addiction” at Then read the October 2014 journal review published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking by Igor Pantic, MD, PhD, for valuable insights and research into online social networking and mental health ( Work with your classmates to organize a panel discussion that explores how social media can both support and compromise development as you mature into adulthood. Select volunteers to debate both sides of the issue using information from the articles you've read, and discuss steps for the future.

4. Consider Cager’s confession: “This book is the list of my life adrift, compiled while we all make a hopeful attempt to get back home. That’s really what all books are, isn’t it? I mean, lists of secrets and things you only wish you’d done. . . .” As Andrew Smith suggests, there are countless novels written for children and young adults about leaving home and making hopeful attempts to return. Whether tumbling down a rabbit hole, passing through a secret door inside a wardrobe, crash-landing on an uninhabited island, or being carried away by a cyclone, multiple adventures lead us to new worlds that must be challenged and explored. Choose a classic novel about leaving and returning home, and compare and contrast its fundamental themes, characterizations, settings, and plots with those found in Rabbit & Robot. Discuss your findings with your peers. Consider the lack of adult supervision or the way adults are portrayed, the allegories or metaphors, and how protagonists evolve throughout the stories.

5. Make a list of personality traits or actions that surprised you and questions you have for tech developers. Then research technology related to human emotions and robots by reading the article called “Emotions Reconsidered: How Robots May Experience Feelings” at Do these findings fit your expectations and answer your questions, or cause you to pose new questions? Make predictions for how robots will be integrated into society in twenty-five years. What might we have gained or lost? Why is there so much we don't yet know?

6. For current research into lunar space travel, refer to the April 23, 2018 article in the Orlando Sentinel ( as NASA looks to make decisions on the next steps in developing orbiting lunar base space-to-moon spacecraft. Do you think it's important for us to expand our reach and send more people to space? Write an essay imagining your experience on a spacecraft. What might you see and learn about? What kind of situations should you be prepared for? Do you have any doubts or fears about leaving the world you know behind?

7. The Tennessee’s setting is essential to the story, containing absurdities rich with descriptive imagery, wild plot, and sensationally dramatic characterization suggestive of a screenplay. Visualize the special effects needed for the frenetic over-the-top and out-of-control action; think about other book-to-movie adaptations that you've liked. Imagine who you would cast in the lead roles. How would you direct the chaos from one precarious encounter to the next? How would you help set the mood without dialogue? Discuss your ideas with your peers.

This guide was prepared in 2018 by Judith Clifton, Educational Consultant, Chatham, MA.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.


About The Author

Photograph by Kaija Bosket

Andrew Smith is the author of several novels for young adults, including WingerStand-Off100 Sideways Miles, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Grasshopper Jungle. He lives in a remote area in the mountains of Southern California with his family, two horses, two dogs, and three cats. He doesn’t watch television, and occupies himself by writing, bumping into things outdoors, and taking ten-mile runs on snowy trails. Visit him online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 24, 2019)
  • Length: 464 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534422216
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

* "Readers will enjoy unraveling the meaning within this provocative jaunt... which dissects society, technology, othering, and what makes humanity human."

– Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

* "Smith has woven an unpredictable, gross, and prescient rumination on modernity, media consumption, and machine-aided communication... Those delving into Smith's zany dystopia will find much to laugh and gasp at, including comedia and serious musings upon sex and violence. But most of all, they will find many deep, essential questions worth pondering."

– Booklist, STARRED review

[A] sci-fi romp.

– Kirkus Reviews

Smith’s trademark humor and gonzo storytelling is on full display here... a story about what makes us human.

– School Library Journal

Smith’s ambitious world-building, which features extended metaphorical riffs on consumerism, class, social media outrage, sexual harassment, and violence, is wildly creative.

– Horn Book Magazine

Awards and Honors

  • California Book Award Finalist

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