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Collin Thatcher is a 13-year-old African-American boy who lives in West Oakland, California. Some people might call him a computer geek or a fantasy gamer. His Aunt Libby, a 4th grade teacher and part-time social-worker, calls him lazy and thinks he is rotting his mind in cyberspace instead of "going out to play" in the hood where kids get shot in the park. She wants to take Collin away from his dad, who is confined to a wheelchair because his legs were paralyzed when he was commanding a tank in a war on terror. Collin's dad is a struggling writer who has just sold a book. But Aunt Libby is not impressed. She wants to put Collin in a boot camp. Collin's best friend is a Tibetan boy named Ralpa whose family escaped from Chinese-ruled Tibet. They now pass as Korean people and run a small market. Collin goes to tell Ralpa about his problems. Then a small Asian boy named Tyger comes into the store. He is from the country that used to be called Burma. He looks just like a kid on the cover of an Asian comic book called "Tyger Tails." It is funny that the cartoon boy's homies look a lot like Collin and Ralpa. Tyger makes a plan to help Collin defeat his Aunt Libby by running away, which will make her look bad because she was the reason he did it. Collin lives with Tyger on an old sailboat in the Oakland Bay for about two weeks and helps Tyger fish, which is how Tyger makes money. Things look good. Aunt Libby has given up on her plans to take Collin away from his dad. Collin will go home, and Tyger will come to live with him. But on the last night, Collin, Tyger and Ralpa are caught by some men! They are drugged, locked in the back of a van, and taken to Chinatown in San Francisco. These men make movies "about kids, but not for kids." They keep their "actors" locked in a basement and make them work long hours in their movies. If the kids behave themselves and do what they are told they might get rewarded with Happy Meals. If they don't behave they might get "put to sleep." Collin, Ralpa and Tyger have to fight their way out of this dirty cartoon prison and also free the other kids who are trapped there.
There are many things going on in this book. You learn a lot about why you should be careful on the internet, and what might happen to some kids who just disappear and are never heard from again. You also learn about Asian gang life. But the book is really an adventure story. Even though some of the subjects it deals with are shocking, it is not a documentary. There is loyalty and friendship in this book that crosses all color lines. It is also a story about learning how to solve your own problems. It makes you wonder what you would do if something like this happened to you.