Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Spy Camp

Spy Camp
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 11+

Ben Ripley is only a first-year student at the CIA's top-secret Academy of Espionage, but he's already caught an enemy mole and learned, by harsh experience, that the intelligence community is riddled with incompetence. For example, he's only been on summer vacation one day when he is approached in public by the very mole he put away five months ago – right under the noses of an undercover security detail that completely misses it and doesn't believe him when he tells them about it, insisting that kid he caught trying to blow up the school is still safely incarcerated. But later, when Ben visits the juvenile prison where his ex-friend is supposed to be, he finds a lookalike kid doing time in his place. This means incompetence is the least of what the CIA is riddled with. It has double agents out the wazoo.

So, obviously, Ben can't call on the CIA for help when the nefarious organization known as SPYDER sends him an ultimatum on the first day of the spy kids' summer camp. He's about to get an extreme test of survival in the mountains, rivers and forests of Virginia and West Virginia, hounded at every step by villains armed with missiles who are somehow two or three steps ahead of every move he makes. The only people he can trust are a beautiful teenage superspy named Erica, her grossly incompetent dad Alexander and a handful of kids from the camp, some of whom don't even like him. By the time they figure out what SPYDER really wants, it may be too late to stop them from carrying out an attack that will change the world in a horrible way.

Poor Ben spends much of this adventure wracking his brains, trying to figure out what it is about him that SPYDER wants so much – only to come to the depressing conclusion that he's really nothing special at all. And yet, when everything comes together in a thrilling and perilous climax, a lot rides on the abilities of a nothing-special trainee spy who just happens to be in position to make a difference. I'm starting to detect a slow-building crescendo of irony here, that SPYDER chose to pick on this guy on the pretext that he has special skills that he actually doesn't, while at the same time, there is something in him that nobody (including himself) knows about. Yet. Whatever that thing is, I expect to see more of it develop in the conflict brewing between SPYDER and the CIA, in which Ben will certainly be right in the middle.

This funny, kid-friendly spy thriller is the second of going-on-nine books in the "Spy School" series by the author of the "Last Musketeer" and "Moon Base Alpha" trilogies. The next book in the series is Evil Spy School, and the latest installment (coming in August 2021) is Spy School at Sea.

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