Codename Zero: The Code Name Conspiracy, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Codename Zero: The Code Name Conspiracy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Violent but gleeful secret-agent thriller with heart.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Olek's (sometimes intentional) mangled English invites reflection on idioms and the challenges of cross-cultural communication.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

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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?

Book details

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