Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: ‘Spy School’ by Stuart Gibbs…Day 133 of Bond 365

I didn’t have any individuals on my list for Bond 365, however I just finished reading spy story for kids called Spy School by Stuart Gibbs that was released in 2012. I happened across it this past weekend at the local bookstore. There are three books in the series, but I just picked up the first book to try it out. Below are my thoughts.

Spy School
By Stuart Gibbs
(2012, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

My cards on the baccarat table: Stuart Gibbs' Spy School is a lot of fun. It's a fun read and even though its target audience is children 8 to 12, there's enough there to interest adults.

Spy School is the story of Benjamin Ripley, a 12-year-old boy who has a knack at math. He is visited by a secret agent who invites Ben to join the CIA Academy of Espionage. He excitedly accepts and his parents approve his attending an elite "science school" across the river in Washington DC. From the moment he enters the campus main building, Ben is the target of ninjas, secret agents, double agents, and kids looking for a hacker to dole out good grades. Ben soon learns that he isn't so much spy material as he is bait, to hopefully reveal a mole in the school's community.

Gibbs packs oodles of spy references amongst a colorful band of teenage characters. The main characters are fleshed out well, while the supporting cast fill in the mise-en-scene nicely. The story is set at a brisk pace and keeps the plot concise and focused, without too much in the way of layering subplots. After all, this story is aimed at the pre-teen reader.

I think the one aspect of the story that caught me off guard was the spy references that I felt would be beyond the young reader. For example, at one point, when Ben is labeled a "Fleming" it's meant to refer to his belief in the spy ideal within popular culture - James Bond. Now, I know that James Bond is pervasive in our cultural fabric, even at a teen level, however it is not often that Ian Fleming's name is brought up as being associated with James Bond. It's not like the new film trailers say "James Bond, the Ian Fleming created British Secret Agent" in the movie's tagline.

There are a couple of additional James Bond references in Spy School. For instance, there is a secret evil organization called SPYDER, interestingly similar to SPECTRE. And the other Bond reference: 007 at a pivotal point in the story.

Further into the story, there are mentions of Petersburg Puppeteer, the Cold War, the concept of disinformation campaign, and martial arts techniques (ie Bashful Armadillo, Wily Chipmunk, Spastic Cobra). And, there’s a verbatim quote from Breakfast Club, “You mess with the bull – and you get the horns.” This time, its said by the principal of the school.

I feel led to believe that this and others I found sprinkled throughout the book are more for the enjoyment of the adult reader who may be reading the story to their child. However, I remember at 12, I was reading novels on my own. These popular culture references are not obscure, but they are not necessarily pervasive in the young person’s knowledge either. Even if the reader doesn’t know the reference, it would not hinder the enjoyment of the story.

Gibbs has written two more novels in this series: Spy Camp and Evil Spy School. I think I might just go ahead and pick those up too.

© Copyright. Michele Brittany. 2011 - 2015. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, and photos are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without written permission.

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