Monday, June 21, 2021

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 12+

Charlie is short for Charlotte, and she's a 12-year-old genius who went to college in Colorado for two reasons – to get away from her parents and to skip class and go skiing. She's acing her classes with one lobe of her brain tied behind her back. She has a history of getting away with cybercrime. She does whatever she wants ... until the day a CIA agent recruits her to help him find Albert Einstein's elusive "Pandora" equation, which could unlock the secrets of cheap nuclear energy or, in the wrong hands, enable every fly-by-night terrorist to pack a nuke in his carry-on.

Every government on earth, if they knew where Pandora was, would go to any length to control it. Until now, its whereabouts have been an unsolvable puzzle, despite an obscure clue concealed in Einstein's last words. All the efforts of the U.S. intelligence community have turned up nothing but disaster. Only a white-supremacist hate group seems to know something. Special Agent Dante Garcia believes that the world's survival depends on trying something different, something crazy – like entrusting the search to his out-of-control, kid genius half-sister.

Dante and another CIA agent named Milana Moon ruin Charlie's day on the slopes to dragoon her into the operation. Only Charlie, and maybe Agent Moon, truly realize that if she actually produces Pandora for the U.S. government, the CIA can't let her live. But there isn't time to worry about that as the unwilling asset leads the team to Jerusalem. Like, in Israel. Of course, the bad guys arrive at about the same time, and what with Mossad (Israel's answer to the CIA) gunning for both groups, the odds of survival seem slim and escape is practically impossible. But let's give Charlie some credit for knowing that "practically impossible" means "possible" and leading everybody – good, bad and in any shade of gray area you prefer – on a deadly, double-crossing, desperate race to retrieve a maguffin that might be better for all concerned if it stayed lost.

This is the first of currently two Charlie Thorne books; its sequel is Charlie Thorne and the Lost City. Stuart Gibbs is also the author of the Funjungle, Last Musketeer, Spy School and Moon Base Alpha books. Charlie reminds me a lot of Ben Ripley, the hero of the Spy School series, except that Ben is willingly learning to be a CIA agent (despite the incompetence and corruption of his adult colleagues) whereas Charlie is more of a free agent. Maybe I'm also thinking a little of James Ponti's "TOAST Mysteries" character Florian Bates, who has a bit of the same young-Sherlock-Holmes vibe going for him. But the level of danger in Charlie's adventure is much more real than in either of those series – mortally so. It's practically an adult novel that just happens to have a teenage hero. Her fate, and everything that depends on the success of her mission, will keep readers of all ages on the edge of their seat until the very end.

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