A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Products & Purchases
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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.