Rebel Genius: Rebel Geniuses, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Rebel Genius: Rebel Geniuses, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Creative fantasy blends art, mysticism, math, and magic.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Touches on art history, including religious imagery and Leonardo da Vinci's work, and introduces some mathematical concepts. Thoughtful lessons on the hard work necessary for creative projects.

Positive Messages

Meaningful creative work requires time and effort. Learning fundamentals is essential to mastering complex ideas and skills. Art can be politically and culturally influential, and can be used to effect important changes. You often need to work through the bad to find the good. Key themes include teamwork, respect for mentors, and creative thinking. Plot line involving manmade, living statues is used to explore discrimination and commonality.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Giacomo is dedicated to art, striving to understand new lessons and explore new ideas. His patient mentor is frank about the limits of his own knowledge, and offers Giacomo guidance to help him secure his footing as he ventures into the unknown. Several characters push through personal disagreements and distrust to work for a common goal. Aaminah is especially empathetic, devoting herself to helping the injured and ailing and standing by Giacomo when nearly everyone else distrusts him. A manmade, living statue offers lessons on the nature of humanity as it develops a moral conscience.


Child is stabbed during robbery, government officials and soldiers are physically menacing, child is injured during supernatural event, two children fight, secondary characters are killed, and there are scenes with corpses and vicious monsters.


One character calls another "jerk."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An elderly teacher drinks wine throughout the day, but not to obvious excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rebel Genius is the first in a mystical fantasy series -- and the debut book by Michael Dante DiMartino, co-creator of the animated TV shows Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. The story borrows elements of several religions and philosophies and adds a splash of magic. A brutal dictator portrays herself as more powerful and important than the spiritual creator of the world, and the plot involves a Holy Grail-like quest for Sacred Tools said to have been used to build the universe. There's a lot of fantasy violence: Mercenaries are brutally killed by giant, invisible lizards, and a dangerous villain leaves a path of deadly destruction (including corpses and grotesque creatures) in his wake.

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What's the story?

As the REBEL GENIUS series starts, Giacomo has been hiding in sewers, stealing supplies, since his artist parents died and he fled the orphanage. After being brutally robbed, he's discovers he has a Genius: a birdlike animal that serves as something of a muse and creative energy source for artists. But Geniuses -- and artistic expression -- are forbidden in the Zizzolan Empire, so Giacomo takes refuge with a small colony of young artists training in secret. He begins to learn about the sacred geometry and his own mysterious, extraordinary powers. Those powers must be put to the test all too soon as a dangerous artist begins to hunt down the legendary Sacred Tools that could undo the world.

Is it any good?

Math meets magic in this inspired fantasy adventure, infused with the same sense of mysticism and philosophy that author Michael Dante DiMartino brought to his animated TV work. Rebel Genius -- the first in a planned series -- is sort of The Da Vinci Code for kids. DiMartino builds an Italianate world and then develops an epic quest that draws from diverse religious references (including golems and Christian imagery) and art history, particularly da Vinci's Vetruvian Man.

The writing sometimes plods, but the creative elements -- particularly the bird Geniuses and the interplay of art, math, and magic -- keep the story from getting bogged down. DiMartino's black-and-white illustrations -- as if drawn from Giacomo's sketchbook -- help explain key mathematical concepts and bring several characters to life. The fantasy world and key themes deepen considerably, setting an intriguing stage for the next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about art as a powerful tool in Rebel Genius. Can you think of real-world examples of ways creative work has threatened people in power?

  • Were you surprised by the way math and art are linked here? Talk with your family about the role math plays in music and visual artwork. (Hint: Try looking at books and apps on drawing.)

  • What are some examples of empathy and courage in this book?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and math

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