Spy School

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Ben Ripley is twelve.  He has a slightly cooler slacker best friend, a truly special talent for math and a huge crush on Elizabeth Pasternak.  He returns home from school one day to find a tuxedoed James Bond type sitting in his living room.  The debonair stranger announces that he is a CIA operative tasked with recruiting Ben for spy school.  They’ll need to leave immediately (of course) and so they feed his parents a bunch of lines about science school and scholarships and head off.  It doesn’t take long for Ben to realize that he’s in over his head.  Upon arrival he’s pushed out of the car with one directive, “Run”. There’s no time to get to know the campus, no welcome reception.  Instead, Ben races towards the buildings while bullets ricochet around him.

In some small ways, Spy School is not that different from his old school,  he finds a new slacker best friend, there’s a gorgeous girl that he develops a crush on.  But Ben’s concerns about being in over his head only grow.  In fact, his recruitment almost seems suspicious.

Spy School is action packed.  There are an abundance of weapons and a fair amount of shooting (although little or no actual death now that I think about it).  I would categorized it as exciting rather than tense or even violent.  I was never particularly worried about what would happen next, just curious.  There are plenty of twists (hence my truncated summary above) which I’m pleased to say I didn’t see coming.  The book wasn’t at all what I thought, but in a good way.  The ending seemed to leave things open for a sequel, but not in an annoying unresolved sort of way.

Great for: Kids who love reading about action and excitement.  This was really just a lot of fun to read.  I don’t think it’s one of those books that grown-ups like but not kids.  It seems to be a real winner especially in the category of having a lot of danger and weapons but no real violence, gore, or frightening parts.  Verdict: will keep kids up after bedtime because they want to know what happens next, not because they’re having nightmares.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – He stares at girls he is too embarrassed to talk to. He has a crush on Elizabeth. Murray says the school has a lot of hot girls.  Benjamin sleeps in nothing but his underwear and ends up in the hall in nothing but his underwear.  A man appears to have a smear of lipstick on his neck.  Ripley tries to knee someone in the testicles.  As part of a spy disguise a male professor dresses as a woman and the principal hits on him unknowingly. Two characters are “an item”.
Profanity – “jerk”, “dork,” “hellhole,” “morons,” “ass,” “idiots,” “darn,”
Death, Violence and Gore – He’s asked if he has any weapons.  He has a slingshot.  It is clarified that by weapons, they mean guns, knives, nunchucks. A man may be carrying a gun.  The book mentions that the nation’s capital is also its murder capital. He is shot at.  A girl has guns, knives, throwing stars and grenades strapped to her chest.  She shares a Taser.  A boy is shocked unconscious.  A training involves fending off people with machetes.   A gun is shoved in someone’s face. There are weaponry rental agreements.  Many, many people carry and fire guns.  A room is protected by nerve gas. The principal was supposed captured and tortured when he was a spy.  A former student was killed and the death was covered up as a bee-sting reaction.  A girl asks Ben if he can kill with his hands. He is attacked by ninjas.  They use paintball guns.  Some students can build bombs out of household objects.  Some can fly a helicopter while fighting off an attacker with a knife. There is some hand-to-hand combat. A character is kidnapped. One boy is shot in the arm.  Another is flattened by falling ice.  Other weapons include: exploding belt buckle, cavalry sword, c4 explosives, a portable missile launcher and I’m sure a few more that I missed!
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – He spikes a boy’s drink with Ex-Lax.  He offers a grown-up a martini.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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