Sunday, May 9, 2021

Spy School

Spy School
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 11+

Ben Ripley, age 12, is a bright student who has often dreamed of being James Bond. One day, his dream comes true when a CIA agent shows up at his house and invites him to join the Academy of Espionage, just across the river in Washington, D.C. When Ben tells us that accepting the invite was the worst decision he ever made, it's serious foreshadowing. Between the night he arrives on campus and his first-hour class the next morning, he gets shot at by snipers, targeted by an assassin and attacked by three ninjas. Of course, the snipers were just a test of his survival skills (not that he's had a chance to learn any), and the ninjas are honestly the funniest pop quiz ever (though Ben doesn't see it that way). But the assassin is a serious problem.

It turns out Ben has been admitted to spy school under false pretenses. He's actually there as bait, with phony skills in his confidential file that was meant to flush out a mole passing CIA secrets to the enemy – whoever that is. It worked too well, too fast. The leak is more serious than anyone expected, and now that Ben would just like to go home, it's no longer safe for him there. In spite of being half a year behind everyone in his class and unqualified to be there, he has to keep pretending to be a genius cryptologist (that's something to do with codes, right?) and trying to develop his spy skills. And since the real spies, along with the faculty and administration of the spy school, are clearly too incompetent to catch the mole, he's got to do that too. His survival depends on it.

Ben is a really smart guy, but otherwise a regular kid with whom lots of young readers will be able to relate. He's crazy about James Bond; he has a knack for embarrassing himself in front of cute girls; he doesn't have super powers, unless you count a knack for numbers; he can be scared and vulnerable, but also brave and resourceful. He has a fun attitude about things, and he's surrounded by quirky friends and goofy enemies (or frenemies, maybe) who may remind you of some of Harry Potter's schoolmates at Hogwarts. He gets into zany and often scary situations. He notices and figures out some pretty tricky things. And even while becoming disillusioned with the intelligence community, he finally proves that he really belongs there.

This is a fun book. It made me laugh out loud several times. It provides an intriguing look at some sites you may have missed in your tour of Washington, D.C. It has some exciting action and suspense, intriguing mystery and a load of words that'll stretch the vocabulary of a middle-school-aged reader. It doesn't talk down to kids, and it doesn't leave adults looking like the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. I'm still young enough at heart to recognize it for a book that I would have loved at Ben's age or thereabouts. Give or take 35 years or so.

This is the first book of an eight-book series whose other titles include Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, Spy Ski School, Spy School: Secret Service, Spy School Goes South, Spy School: British Invasion and Spy School Revolution. A ninth book, Spy School At Sea, is due to be released on Aug. 31, 2021. Children's author Stuart Gibbs has also published seven "FunJungle" books (the latest, Bear Bottom, is actually coming out the day after tomorrow as I write this), the "Last Musketeer" and "Moon Base Alpha" trilogies, and currently two "Charlie Thorne" adventures.

No comments: