Author: Stuart Gibbs
Ages 8 and up
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary for the first Spy School (from goodreads.com):
Can a normal, average kid become a superstar secret agent? Maybe not, but it’ll be fun to watch him try!
Ben Ripley may only be in middle school, but he’s already pegged his dream job: C.I.A. or bust. Unfortunately for him, his personality doesn’t exactly scream “secret agent.” In fact, Ben is so awkward, he can barely get to school and back without a mishap. Because of his innate math skills, Ben isn’t surprised when he is recruited for a magnet school with a focus on science—but he’s entirely shocked to discover that the school is actually a front for a junior C.I.A. academy. Could the C.I.A. really want him?
Actually, no. There’s been a case of mistaken identity—but that doesn’t stop Ben from trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent, the kind that always gets the girl. And through a series of hilarious misadventures, Ben realizes he might actually be a halfway decent spy…if he can survive all the attempts being made on his life!
I’ve been in sort of a reading funk for the last few months. For most of 2016 I remember devouring books and really enjoying the time I spent reading, but lately I feel a little disconnected. I’ve been reading a somewhat steady volume, but I just don’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I used to. I think part of the reason is that the books I’ve been reading lately are in genres I find as more mundane such as cozy mysteries or books that just disappointed me.
Bottom line, I crave for those books I devour. The ones I start reading and then basically don’t stop until I finish. The ones where I actually WANT to know what happens in the end without just skipping to the end.
So I decided to turn to juvenile fiction, my favorite genre by far, to try and get my reading groove back. What I came up with was Spy School, a book who title just sounds interesting. It reminds me of other middle grade novels I love such as Double Vision and Masterminds and I’m pretty sure I’m going to really enjoy this book. I mean, you drop a bunch of kids into a secret spy school where they are trying to dig out a mole, like that could really ever be boring. I imagine there will be a slew of interesting characters, hilarious situations, and an engrossing plotline. All in all, I can’t wait to read this.
Originally I planned on reviewing just the first book in the series, but I found them so good that I binge read all four of them in just a few short days. Since I read them all already and it’s getting harder to isolate what I liked and disliked about each book I just decided to do them all in one go.
I really want to talk about the plots of each of the books, but at the same time I don’t want to spoil them so unfortunately I can’t. As you can probably guess, the plots all have a serious mystery element, which would make the books much less enjoyable if you knew about it before hand. All I can say is I liked all four of them, even though the plots are a bit formulaic, especially in the last three books. In the first books Ben is brought into the CIA academy as bait to lure out a mole, while in the second, third, and fourth books Ben is trying to uncover the secret plots of evil organizations and thwart them. Even though the basic premise for the books is repeated, I love watching Ben trying to compete with all these characters (both good and bad) that outclass him and eventually watch him thwart their plots.
I think the highlight of these books are definitely the secondary characters. Every time I read a new Spy School book, I find myself hoping that there will be much more time spent with characters such as Zoe, Warren, Jawa, and Chip. The books center on protagonist Ben and deuteragonist Erica and while I like reading about Ben and his attempts to assimilate at the CIA academy, I find myself a little less fond of Erica. She’s obviously the deus ex machina, especially in the first story. Anytime they need some new information or gadget, Erica disappears for a while and then *poof* they have what they need. Each story, Erica becomes more human and prone to mistakes while Ben becomes more spy savy. While it is fun to watch how every single evil plot seems to center around Ben and how somehow at the last minute Ben is able to piece together the plot, what I would really like to see is a story where Zoe’s, Warren’s, Jawa’s, and Chip’s specialized skills would be explored more. So far we’ve only gotten a small taste of the spies those guys could be and it’s whet my appetite for more.
Although I do like the hero characters, I can’t say I’m as impressed with the villains. I don’t find them particularly villainous, as in they don’t cackle maniacally (mostly). For the most part they just seem like normal people who happen to lack certain morals such as Thou Shalt not Kill and Thou Shalt not Want to Become Filthy Rich from the Suffering of Others. For the most part, I’m not particularly impressed with any of the villains and I don’t really care too much if any of them show up in future installments. There is one exception though; I do wish to see Nefarious Jones again (from Evil Spy School). I’m very curious to see what happened to him and by extension his classmate Ashley Sparks. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say too much, but I felt like their fates were left ambiguous in Evil Spy School and aside from a small mention of Ashley Sparks in Spy Ski School we don’t really know what happened to them.
Overall, this series if funny, fast-paced, and thrilling. It’s no wonder that it’s so popular with middle schoolers and their teachers. While I’m not dying to read Spy School #5 (officially called Spy School: Secret Service), it’s definitely on my To-Read list.