City Spies

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
City Spies Book Poster Image
Diverse young, skilled misfits team up in exciting spy romp.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Packed with computer lore, philosophical discussions (like whether the Eiffel Tower is a greater feat of art or of engineering), history lessons (especially about Benito Viñes, a 19th century priest who became known as Padre Hurucán by being the first to be able to predict the behavior of hurricanes), and assorted magic/sleight-of-hand tricks including the French Drop. References to Willy Wonka and other literary characters; French and Spanish phrases.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about friendship, courage, creative thinking, knowing your stuff and being competent, appreciating the talents of others, and learning how to be a good leader. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many teen and tween title characters have had traumatic childhoods but showed a lot of spirit and determination using their talents to fight back (e.g., Brooklyn's computer hacking skills, Rio's magic tricks, Kat's genius for pattern recognition). Occasional conflicts and jealousies surface, but they're a strong, courageous, often funny team, all learning a lot from each other. Adult characters Mother and Monty are supportive, multitalented, mysterious; teen character Paris came into their lives when he saved Mother (who's a man) from a warehouse fire set by a crime syndicate.


A dead man's severed thumb is being used to leave thumbprints at crime scenes, including recent murder of two secret agents. An adult character (a spy) was left to die in a dangerous situation by his wife (also a spy), who took their kids and disappeared. A teen character attacks a jailhouse bully who's threatening a younger kid. Tweens and teens have to do scary things like climb up the sides of tall buildings, go through the bone-encrusted catacombs of Paris, etc.


Occasional scene-setting mention of brand names like Beechcraft planes, English football franchises like Manchester United and Arsenal.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As the spies plan a break-in at her most recent foster home to recover her belongings, Maria says she expects her foster dad to be in front of the TV drinking beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that City Spies, the first book in a series by James Ponti, involves rebellious, sometimes delinquent, but definitely talented and diverse young characters recruited by a spy agency for assorted world-saving missions. Readers will pick up all kinds of specialized knowledge of computer security systems, pattern recognition, tech- and science-related history, and lots more, including Spanish and French phrases. The title characters range in age from 12 to 15, hailing from Brooklyn, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Katmandu, and Paris (via Rwanda), and we learn a lot about their character-building origins. As is typical of spy adventures, dangerous situations abound, and two spies have recently been murdered by the bad guys. There's assorted hand-to-hand fighting, development of pickpocketing skills, hacking into government computers, and more. An adult character is trying to find his children, who have been "disappeared" by his ex-wife.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCristina williams September 8, 2020

So much fun

Great book! I finished the book sitting in my laundry room. So hard to put it down. Totally recommend this book. Action packed and fun. Makes you completely con... Continue reading
Parent of a 8-year-old Written byMacy C. June 16, 2020
Kid, 9 years old August 5, 2020

city spys

City spies is an amazing read by James Ponti. If you like the Stuart Gibbs, spy school series you will love this book
Kid, 11 years old October 4, 2020

City Spies by James Ponti

If you like action, mystery, character development, and complex plot twists, City Spies by James Ponti is the book for you. A young girl named Sara Martinez is... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sara Martinez, 12, thought she was doing something great when she hacked into the New York City foster care system to expose the cruel and criminal doings of her current foster parents. Instead of rescuing her fellow residents, though, she's looking at a long, computer-deprived stretch in juvenile hall. Things take an unexpected turn when a man she's never seen steps in as her public defender and she quickly finds herself recruited to the group soon to be known as CITY SPIES. The group includes Paris, a Rwanda-born French street kid with excellent survival skills; Kat (short for Katmandu), who has superhuman pattern-recognition abilities; Sydney, whose passion for the underdog and amazing ability to deal with crazy situations were entirely wasted in an Australian boarding school; and Brazilian Rio, who's kept himself alive all these years stealing, picking pockets, and otherwise deceiving the eye with sleight of hand. Together, under the supervision of mysterious MI6 figures Mother and Monty, they're quite a team. But will they be a match for the evil syndicate Umbra, which seems to have something planned for an upcoming science competition? Or will they become the latest victims of the enigmatic but definitely deadly Purple Thumb?

Is it any good?

James Ponti's series about a diverse, multitalented crew of young secret agents is off to a rollicking start, pitting them against a murderous villain known as the Purple Thumb. Taking the names of their hometowns, Brooklyn, age 12 (computer hacking); Kat(mandu), 13 (codes and cryptography); Sydney, 14 (ops and problem-solving); Rio, 12 (pickpocketing, magic tricks, sleight of hand); and Paris, 15 (survival skills), are a formidable team likely to face many (highly entertaining) challenges in volumes to come. Danger, exotic locations, and moments of brilliance ensue as the kids battle the dark forces of Umbra, and their mentor searches the world for his missing kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories featuring a team of misfits recruited for their unusual talents suited to some vital task, like the main characters in City Spies. Why do you think this is such a popular theme? And why is it never the regular, ordinary people who get recruited for these jobs?

  • The characters in City Spies come from very different places around the world. How do you think their hometowns influenced their development as people?

  • Do you like to learn and perform magic tricks? Does it teach you to see things differently, maybe be more observant?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventures and spy stories

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