I’m on my second week of reviewing the nominees for the 2013 Edgar Award. This week I tackle a contender for the juvenile category.
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Age: upper middle grade (to me this book screams “twelve-year-old boy”)
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Ben Ripley has been recruited by a secret school that trains junior CIA members. His parents and best friend think he’s headed off to a geeky science school, but Ben soon discovers that he’s entangled in a dangerous mission to uncover a mole hiding within the school. It doesn’t help that he’s fallen for an older spy girl with skills far superior to his. Can Ben save the school from the enemy and win the attention of the girl?
Does it pass the “Homeschool Mom Test”? Overall, Spy School is a relatively harmless story, especially compared to some of the movies and video games twelve-year-old boys enjoy. However, there are a few things in the book that might give some parents reason to pause before handing it to their son.
First, as a spy story, you can imagine that there’s going to be violence and weaponry. However, I thought the author did a pretty good job of bringing it to a middle grade level. Our narrator, Ben, has terrible aim on the firing range at school, so the only time he handles a gun is at the very end of the story, and he doesn’t aim it at a living creature. I’d say more, but I’d ruin the ending.
Second, the words “damn” and “ass” are used once each in the story. Quite frankly, these words can be heard on network TV, but I know some parents still don’t want that in their kids’ reading material at all.
Third, the adults in the book are made to look pretty stupid. Sometimes, especially in the case of the principal at the school, they are made to look really stupid. This seems to be a common trend in modern middle grade literature. I’ve heard some parents express dismay about this, so I’m giving fair warning. Only a parent can judge if his or her child can handle that with grace.
Bottom line? Despite the fact that I guessed who the mole was really early on (maybe I’ve just read too many mysteries at this point), I enjoyed the different twists and turns in the plot. Gibbs really keeps the action moving. The poor narrator is attacked by the enemy and fellow classmates at every turn. I think twelve-year-old boys who like spy movies would gobble this up.