A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Olek's (sometimes intentional) mangled English invites reflection on idioms and the challenges of cross-cultural communication.
Make your own decisions; don't let others choose for you. Doing the right thing can involve considerable risk. Don't take people at face value. Friendship can be the most valuable tool in your mission.
Positive Role Models
A prankster, Carson is a regular visitor to the principal's office. His pranks aren't harmless, but he isn't malicious. He chooses to work with the Agency because he's intrigued and because he genuinely wants to help. Olek's parents, though only mentioned in the story, are bravely trying to make things right after realizing they were duped into aiding terrorists.
Violence & Scariness
Gun-toting villains pursue both children and adults, breaking into a family's home in the night. A teen is used as leverage to strong-arm his parents. A teen is tortured and left badly bruised with broken thumbs.
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Products & Purchases
A few movies and celebrities are mentioned, as are several brands including Piggly Wiggly, Disney Channel, Skype, Angry Birds, Xbox, Walmart, Lucky Charms, YouTube, Burger King, Nissan, Sunday Night Football, and Mini Cooper.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Codename Zero, the first book in a series, has the classic hallmarks of the spy genre: menacing bad guys, fabulous gadgets, and violence. The grisly torture of a teen nudges this to a slightly older audience than the publisher's recommendation for age 8 and older. However, Carson's mission is an enjoyable one: He needs to befriend the new kid at school and make him seem right at home in the community, and he does so with a kind and generous heart.
Is It Any Good?
CODENAME ZERO is a promising start to Chris Rylander's Codename Conspiracy series. It's a solid thriller with layers of intrigue and plenty to keep readers guessing. Carson at first seems like just another smart-alecky teen protagonist, but his good-heartedness keeps the book grounded. His best friends -- including a tireless conspiracy theorist and his pragmatic but mischievous sister -- are fun sidekicks.
Carson is drawn to "weird" because "weird" is usually interesting, and he genuinely enjoys befriending Olek, the odd new kid in town. A chance encounter helps him see that there's more to Olek than meets the eye, and it doesn't take much effort to realize Olek is a hidden treasure. Rylander delivers a great message about finding friendship with a light touch -- and glee. The story revels in the absurd, from explosive Fruit Roll-Ups and fainting goats to memory-wiping pharmaceuticals and a vast spy network. The villains are both menacing and absurdly over-the-top. The violence -- particularly a torture scene involving pliers made with human teeth -- may be unsettling to some readers.
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.