Want personalized picks that fit your family?
Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.
Codename Zero: The Code Name Conspiracy, Book 1
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
What's the story?
Carson Fender is so bored with his boring life in his boring North Dakota town that he goes to great lengths to spice things up -- like setting a herd of fainting goats loose on the middle-school grounds while he and his pals Super Glue everything they can inside the school. But when a desperate stranger hands Carson a package with mysterious instructions, his life suddenly gets a lot more interesting. He's soon swept up in a mission with the Agency, a top-secret spy program that has been operating in his town for years -- even in his school. Carson could save the world...if he can stay alive.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the key elements of the secret-agent genre: gadgets, a villain and his henchmen, and a naïve civilian who's drawn into intrigue. Why are these such enduring conventions?
Carson conceals the truth from his family and friends. Is his deceit justifiable, or could he have made a different choice?
Do you think children could be put to work as spies?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love mysteries
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.