Spy School Book Poster Image

Spy School

Clever, fast-paced mystery mixes spy thrills and teen drama.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Spy School covers some of the basics of undercover work and the spy trade, weapons, and gadgets. It also includes a little about advanced math skills.

Positive messages

Spy School offers positive messages about loyalty and honesty. It portrays boys and girls as equally intelligent and capable, and promotes a positive image of intelligence and resourcefulness as useful, desirable skills.

Positive role models

The main characters have typically teen concerns but are often wise beyond their years in terms of judgment, ability, and perception. Adults are often absent or shown as incompetent for comedic value. There's excellent gender parity in terms of showing both boys and girls as equally skilled and intelligent, with a female heroine in particular who outshines all the other students.


Spy School features violence and weapons-use typical of a spy mystery, but considerably less injurious. Carrying a weapon and being skilled at weaponry is a prerequisite at the school. Fistfights, the tossing of nunchucks or throwing stars, being shot at, or being on the receiving end of general inimidation, are routine. In one passage, a bomb must be deconstructed. In another, a boy's arm is grazed by a bullet. There's minimal mention of blood, injuries are largely described in terms of painfulness, and death is referred to only as an imminent threat that doesn't materialize, or as having happened to characters in the past. 


Male characters occasionally engage in sexual innuendo and banter, as they  rate or describe the attractiveness of female students.


Minor profanity, such as referring to a place as a "hellhole," or the occasional "damn."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Spy School is a mystery about recruiting teens to be future CIA operatives. It reads like a teen-friendly distillation of a James Bond film -- weapons, gadgets, girls -- with an unexpected angle that shows the glamor is never all its cracked up to be. So while the familiar violence and peril of the genre are present (fistfights, the tossing of nunchucks or throwing stars, being shot at, threats and intimidation), it's all done with a very tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted attitude that translates into little real injury or bloodshed, but a lot of suspense. No swearing beyond the occasional "damn," and the only sexual content is boys' occasional innuendo and banter regarding the attractiveness of their female classmates.

What's the story?

Nerdy, awkward Ben Ripley has just been recruited to a top secret spy school for future CIA operatives, but why? Is he a master cryptologist without even knowing it, or just a patsy who's decent in math? Unfortunately for him, there isn't much time to answer that question, or do much studying. Under the guidance of suave older spy Alexander, his new friend Murray the slacker, and the enigmatic and beautiful fellow student Erica, he'll face assassins, bullies, top secret projects, and a labyrinth of secret passages. Along the way, he'll have to learn who's for real, why he's really there, and how to get out alive.

Is it any good?


SPY SCHOOL's a fun, fast-paced read for middle schoolers up to teens. Author Stuart Gibbs manages to drop in the kind of allusions to old-school spy films and TV shows from James Bond to Mission Impossible, while believably inhabiting the real-world concerns of teens: fitting in, being attractive to the opposite pants, not being mortified in front of your peers every five seconds. 

It traffics in the tropes of the genre -- weapons, danger, fisticuffs -- but Gibbs does it with such humor, nonchalance, and smarts that the reader feels in on the joke. Kids who identify as nerds or brainiacs will enjoy a book where being smart and quick-witted are an asset worthy of instant popularity, and the author doesn't talk down to them or shy away from using a sophisticated vocabulary (word of the day: soporific). Parents can appreciate the positive messages about intelligence, and a strong female heroine in Erica, who outfoxes everyone she comes into contact with.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Spy School portrays undercover work vs. how it appears in the movies. What have you seen about spying on TV or in films? How does it compare with Ben Ripley's experience?

  • Some characters in the book often "play dumb" to disarm their potential enemies. Have you ever been tempted to downplay your intelligence or skill to fit in or get your way? What happened? What was the outcome?

  • Spy School simultaneously plays on the nerdy stereotype while dispelling it. Read more about stereotypes in media here.

  • Go online to learn about real-life careers as a government agent.

Book details

Author:Stuart Gibbs
Topics:Sports and martial arts, Adventures, Great girl role models, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:March 6, 2012
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 13
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Kid, 11 years old March 3, 2015


This book is AMAZING!!! I TOTALLY recommend it! Romance: yes, but only crushes, it's fine, no kissing, nothing. Violence: yeah, but it's fine as well. I REALLY LOVE it! and there is another book in the series!!!!! it's called spy camp, I also recommend it! REALLY GOOD!!:)
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 11 years old November 2, 2015

Action packed book - Spy School - book one in series

Spy School is a book about a boy named Ben Ripley who gets recruited for Spy School based on his math skills. He meets a very talented girl named Erica Hale and a secret organization named SPYDER tries to kill Ben and recruit him. I really liked the character Zoe, one of Bens fellow agents in training. This books deserves five stars and is adventurous. Your left wondering what's next after every chapter. Find out who's the mole by reading spy school and don't forget there are two more books in this series. This book is for 5th and 6th graders who love to read and don't like boring books because this book rocks!
What other families should know
Great role models
Teen, 16 years old Written byavrehm August 29, 2015

Good & Bad about Spy School

I think spy school is a very good book! It kept me in suspense! But did have some romance and some sudden violence involved.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing