Spy School, Book 1

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Spy School, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Clever, fast-paced mystery mixes spy thrills and teen drama.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 20 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

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 & Representations

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.

Violence

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. 

Sex

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

Language

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

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bynolanl1 August 2, 2016

Great for everyone

Spy school is a book about junior secret CIA agents, specifically Ben Ripley. He's always wanted to be a spy, and this is his chance. With little crushes a... Continue reading
Adult Written byCtr2020 December 27, 2019

Disturbed my daughter with the cursing

Three chapters into the book my daughter had come across several curse words which were totally unnecessary . She was enjoying the book so it was unfortunate th... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old June 5, 2020

Spy School: Book 1

This book is one of the best books I have ever read. Although it has minor violence, it's great and action packed. Ben (the main character) and his friend... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 16, 2020

Probably one of the best mystery’s of all time!!

There’s no doubt about it, there is violence. Including guns, bombs, and bullying. But there is messages about teamwork friendship.

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.

Book details

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