#Book Review: Spare Parts

Spoiler Alert! I have written some thoughts that will definitely give away the plot. This review also covers some controversial topics.

“This is an exploration mission. Exploration means discovery of the new – and unexpected. This competition will push your imagination and technical skills. Enter the event with the spirit of men and women explorers who have set out into the unknown.”

2004 Marine Advanced Technology Education
ROV Education Design and Building Specifications

Around the end of last year, my alumni book club read Spare Parts- Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream written by Wired magazine reporter, Joshua Davis. We have a Q&A discussion that is hosted by our moderator, Jon Seipp. I have posted my responses to his questions, but I have added some new thoughts.

I was excited to get my hands on this intriguing book for a variety of reasons:

  • Robotics is near and dear to my heart. (See: #Shape Poem- First Love) I was curious about what kind of robot they have built especially after learning that it can function underwater.
  • I live in the state of Texas where the southern border and immigration issues are currently a hot topic.
  • Several classmates of mine and the children I tutor were impacted by various immigration laws, and I wanted to understand their struggles better.
  • I also wanted to understand the various facets and problems with illegal immigration and rampant human trafficking, especially after the local news of a trailer of migrant deaths.


This section of the book introduced the main characters of Spare Parts, including the teachers and students who are the true stars of the book. We learn the students and Fredi are all immigrants to the US. It is this shared background that will bring them together.

We see Oscar wants to join the army but is unable to because of his illegal status–what did you think of his willingness to fight for this country, despite being blocked from doing so? The team recruits Luis specifically to lift the robot–how does his role illustrate that old adage, there are no small parts? Do you think there is value in having niche skills among team members when you form a working group? Share your thoughts with the group below!

To learn more about armed forces regulations for the inclusion/exclusion of immigrants, check out this article: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/immigrants-in-the-us-armed-forces-3353965

Jon Seipp on Pages 1-47 (The Beginning)

Considering that there are many citizens that don’t want to fight for this country, Oscar’s willingness and bravery to do so should be recognized and praised.

I do understand there are various security risks, some of which were mentioned in the article that you shared. “If the non-citizens comes from countries with a reputation of hostility towards the U.S, they may require a waiver.” There has been cases of foreign born recruits turning on their own teammates. Reading this article makes me think that even with these rigorous standards, there are other issues to take into account. Measuring one’s character is a complex challenge when taking account a variety of variables including their background and other influences. Even though slapping a label is efficient and streamlines decision making, there are clear problems with it as well.

“The military benefits greatly from the service of its foreign-born. Non-citizen recruits offer greater racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity than citizen recruits. This diversity is particularly valuable given the military’s increasingly global agenda.” I do agree that there are a variety of advantages to having a diverse team, but again I think there’s another side as well. One of my professors published a paper on group dynamics, and I think there are certain qualities that make a group gel better than others. It seems that there are times when a diverse team can impede progress. So, I wonder how “diverse” could a team be and still maintain productivity? I do think having niche skills among team members is essential. What is one team member’s strength is another weakness. There are a variety of roles that need to be filled if attempting to accomplish a common goal.


In this section, we learn more of the character’s background stories–what brought them to this country and the challenges they met. As the team gets to know one another, they also face some challenges, with an early competition loss. Yet, they do not let that stop them.

Fredi’s childhood bounced between Iran and the US–what challenges would this make for him and what personal strengths might these experiences have helped him to develop? Despite some early losses, the team decides to go national and compete against college teams–what did you think of this decision? What does this decision say about the team’s personal and collective strengths? Share your thoughts with the group below!

While reading, I found myself curious to know more about these robotic competitions. I found the following website to be an interesting and informative resource:

Jonathan Seipp on pages 47-91 (Struggles, Setbacks, and Strengths)

I think Fredi’s experiences helped him better empathize with his students. I think the students respected him and listened to him more after realizing the challenges that Fredi faced such as falling victim to bullying and finding one’s path in life despite his parents’ expectations. Fredi also understood what it felt like to be targeted and unwanted by society which is what a majority of his students go through. Those experiences didn’t stop him from being a high performer on the track team or building an incredible hovercraft. He was able to motivate his students to achieve high objectives and was a positive role model.

It was interesting that Fredi and Allan brought up the idea of competing against college teams initially believing that losing to a team like MIT would still be honorable. Originally, it was a strategic move to increase the self-esteem of the students and opened up learning opportunities that might not have been available in the high school division. That was a risky, yet bold decision.

There was a risk that these students could have been overwhelmed by the requirements and the rigor that was needed to accomplish these tasks. Yet, the team rose to the challenge. They were able contribute to the project with their knowledge and experiences, and were very resourceful and innovative in their approach to a variety of tasks.

As someone who formally participated in Lego robotics challenges, the MATE competitions look like a lot of fun!


In this section, the team has shifted their goal towards Don’t Finish Last. Simultaneously, they are also faced with the universal challenge of needing money to finance their robotics builds. They seek out donations from friends and family to offset their costs and material needs. Despite their limited finances, they manage to make it to a national competition.

What did you think about the team’s new goal of Don’t Finish Last–is this reasonable, humorous, or something else? During a trip to California, the team gets stopped at an internal border control checkpoint–what did you think of this situation and how would you react? In general, what do you think of internal checkpoints? Share thoughts with the group below!

I decided to do some research on how border control checkpoints function and how they can affect people. Check out this article about it–how would you feel to be living in such an area. Better still, how would you feel if these borders could personally impact you, by leading to your deportation: https://www.aclu.org/other/constitution-100-mile-border-zone

Jonathan Seipp on pages 92-133 (Bordering at Last)

I thought it was fascinating how the team manage to finance their project. Their approach on how to present what they were working on with the community was vital to their fundraising success. Reading about how they initially called the experts to inquire about various parts, but being able to have have these companies loan the parts for use was great. They showed a genuine interest and a hunger to learn about the services and products the business was offering. I was marveling at the generosity of these companies. It made me ponder on how to partner with businesses to accomplish goals for my own community.

I was laughing along with Lorenzo when he laughed at the thought “not finishing last”. Understandably, given his background, Oscar was not too keen on this goal. They were trying to set a reasonable, realistic goal for their robot. I think the team was fully aware of the predicament they were in, and they didn’t want to get their hopes up too high. They knew that the odds were stacked up against them, and were doing their best to work with the cards that have been dealt to them. This is a team that is used to facing disappointment in other aspects of their lives. It was also a reflection of the inferiority complex they felt. In the words of Rick Riordan, “Humor is a good way to hide the pain.”

The routine border control checkpoint made me feel concerned despite being commonplace in the region. I felt so worried for the students. I can’t imagine the anxiety they felt knowing that their whole life can be turned upside down again from this one checkpoint. If I had to move back to where my family came from, adapting to a new culture that’s completely foreign to me is going to be a major culture shock and adjustment. Again, I was amazed that Fredi was able to quickly respond to this situation.

It feels suffocating to live in this sort of environment, and yet this is the reality for many Americans. It seems as if the Border Patrol is in dire need of a system of checks and balances itself seeing how big it is. Yet it seems like a futile effort to enforce the work of internal affairs. From 1953 to now, the organization has grown dramatically due to the political climate and the voiced concerns of various citizens who felt unsafe. Government regulations are ignored because Border Patrol seems to be serving the interests of the private companies that are providing financial incentives for continued militarization.


In this section, two of the students are graduating. However, they can still continue in the competition, along with the rest of their team. Unfortunately, due to poor grades, Hanck is no longer permitted to be on the team. This requires the rest of the team to take on new roles. Meanwhile, the team has to be equally adaptable as they design their competition robot. Their hard work pays off with unexpected outcomes at the competition.

Oscar has to step into a new role once Hanck can no longer serve as pilot–what did you think about his adaptability in this situation and how do you think he was able to so quickly manage a new role? This team could have faced a real setback when one member could no longer perform–in your own function on teams, how can you avoid such challenges or be better prepared to manage them when they do occur? Share your thoughts with the group below!

The Spare Parts team showed adaptability to their circumstances. If you want to improve your own adaptability, check out these tips: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201508/5-ways-make-the-best-bad-situation

Jonathan Seipp on pages 134-181 (Adaption and Teamwork)

I think Oscar’s ROTC background helped prepare him to adapt to his new role as a pilot. ROTC programs are designed to meet the challenges that today’s conflicts face. Students learn how to fight in chaotic and complex environments in which their opponent may not use traditional tactics. Thus, Oscar learned to develop flexibility, adaptability, and creativity to meet those challenges. The program also instilled values of responsibility, self-confidence, and leadership abilities. Those skills that he gained transferred to this role.

A risk management plan may serve well in these circumstances. Prepare by having a back-up plan to handle unexpected situations to make best use of the time. Expand your network so that you may call for assistance or solicit advice when you need it. Honest feedback and insights will be helpful in getting your team back on track. I think team members need to diversify their roles in case a team member does drop out for any reason.

Clear your mind by stepping back and taking a break helps as well. When you come back to the problem, there’s a renewed focus. I liked how the Spare Parts team decided to pursue a fun robotics project just for pleasure outside of their main one. They could relax, have fun, and learn a few things that could help them with their goals. That experience allowed them to the freedom to be creative and take risks.


This week I want to discuss pages 182-222 (Part 4) of Spare Parts. This section describes the aftermath of the successful robotics competition. Carl Hayden Community High School determines to continue not only having a robotics team but also to host their own competition. The author also relays the team’s individual outcomes after high school, with some having continued success, while others face unexpected barriers that completely alter their lives.

The robotics team faces unique challenges when the national competition occurs in Canada–they are unable to travel there–what was your reaction to this potential setback and the way they dealt with it? After graduation, Oscar faces significant ups and downs in his life–what was your reaction to his story and how does it continue to illustrate his resilience? What were your reactions to the other outcomes? Share your thoughts with the group below!

Family separations at the border have certainly been in the news lately. To learn more about the current political and legal state of this controversial situation, check out this article:

Immigrant family separations are over. Now what? Republicans and Democrats agree that the U.S. should no longer separate immigrant parents from their children, but they are miles apart on figuring out how to resolve the problem.

I liked that if the students from Carl Hayden weren’t welcome to participate in Canada due to their undocumented status, they created their own opportunities in their own backyard. Fredi and Allan didn’t let it deter their students from crucial learning experiences. Life handed them some lemons, and they made great lemonade.

What a journey Oscar faced! After receiving accolades, recognition, and highest honors from his college after graduation, I didn’t anticipate Oscar going back to his run-down childhood home in Temosachic, Mexico. He was very brave, and despite his stoicism, I can only imagine the fear he experienced. Yet, he was able to survive in a dangerous environment with few resources. I was so glad that Fredi and Allan stayed in touch with him. That lifeline means so much. Even more awe inspiring was when Oscar achieved the rank of sergeant in the US army after he came home to the United States as a citizen.

I felt bad for Christian who wasn’t able to complete college due to the tuition increase after political environment changed the laws. I felt a pang in my heart as he found a creative outlet creating robots in his garage with materials from his workplace. Yet, I had an image of Steve Jobs in similar circumstances: college dropout, but a passionate inventor tinkering away, experimenting with innovative ideas. Lorenzo explored his passion with cooking and behind the scenes, serves many customers who will never know about his accomplishments. Luis worked as a janitor in the courtrooms quietly observing everything. Their stories aren’t over yet. Where they come from doesn’t indicate where they will be going. I wish the best for their lives.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds like a very good book, great insights and points of view you shared. I love how this book really parallels so many concerns and real life circumstances people face every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. theresaly520 says:

      Interesting observation Jenna! Perhaps that’s why this book intrigued me throughout the story! 🙂 There is some quality that connects us all together.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely, commonalities that we can relate really connect us and feel like we’re part of it…relatable stories definitely touch us on a very personal level. 😊❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. I enjoy reading and discussing books with my book club too. Hearing different points of view on the books makes me think of things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. theresaly520 says:

      Yes! It’s amazing how one’s background can shed light on a perspective you’ve never considered before.


  3. iScriblr says:

    Sounds interesting! Excellent job done with the review!🙌


    1. theresaly520 says:

      Thank you Richa! It’s been a while since a book caught my attention like this and gripped me till the end. It felt rather meaningful to me! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lwbut says:

    Haven’t read the book/seen the movie (:-) ) so i can’t offer constructive comment but you seemed to offer a very balanced and insightful synopsis and have given us useful links for follow-up. 🙂

    Unofficial (‘illegal’) migration to Australia is a very big issue here with our current government very intent on refusing entry to anyone who tries to gain landfall via boats from other countries. (Mainly by getting to Indonesia then paying people smugglers to get them to on of our remote islands where they have entitlement to legal representation paid for by the taxpayer).

    It sounds harsh (the indefinite imprisonment on foreign soil of some of those who have tried is undoubtedly harsh) but the government has one of the highest rates of legal migration of any country (barring Jordan who currently have some 4 million refugees mostly from Syria). We take in about 1% of our population each year as migrant entries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. theresaly520 says:

      Oh you heard of the movie! I heard it was slightly different. Smuggling is a big issue here as well. Families are migrating in 18 wheeler trucks that aren’t checked. It’s tragic that they feel they must put themselves in these positions in order to obtain a better life. Reading this book introduced me to the thought process of the parents who brought their kids over. Harsh as it is, I understand the taxpayers’ concerns however. It’s a process. Security and safety of the public is something to consider as well.


  5. aguycalledbloke says:

    Hey Sa, l have just tagged you for 321 Quote Me with the topic of Hope.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. theresaly520 says:

      Thanks Rory! Interesting topic for me to ponder about!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. aguycalledbloke says:

        I’ll look forwards to your quotes Sa 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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