A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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.
Talk to your kids 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.
- Author: Stuart Gibbs
- Genre: Mystery
- 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
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 13
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 23, 2020
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