Spy School Secret Service: Spy School, Book 5

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Spy School Secret Service: Spy School, Book 5 Book Poster Image
Distrust and nonstop peril make for thrilling adventure.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Informative look at the nuts and bolts of life in the White House beneath the glamour, portraying it as a frantically busy workplace. Lots of fun factoids, from the Secret Service's use of Belgian Malinois dogs to Truman's bowling alley. (There's some embroidering of the truth, notably with secret passages and rooms, and at least one error -- the secure zone is nicknamed the "18 Acres," not 12 as Gibbs writes.) Also includes references to American history and politics, including Nathan Hale and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Positive Messages

Emphasis on learning from experience, using powers of observation, applying knowledge, and being open to ideas that challenge your beliefs. Loyalty and teamwork are essential, and so is being self-protectively reserved around people who may not have your best interests at heart.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ben is an increasingly thoughtful spy, absorbing lessons learned by observing his friend Erica, the most accomplished student at school. Even when he's the subject of a nationwide manhunt, he's focused on stopping the bad guys -- though he's worried about his parents, clearing his name is a lower priority. Several peers and adults take great risks -- including breaking the law -- to help Ben. Adults who are not close to Ben or his friends are accusatory and hostile, assuming the worst about him.

Violence

Children physically attacked, shot at, threatened with illegal torture, nearly blown up, and used as sacrificial pawns. Child is shot with sedation dart. Multiple fight scenes involving fists, feet, guns, and sharp weapons. People narrowly escape serious injury or death in bombing. Children set up others to take blame and punishment for very serious crimes.

Sex

Discussion of crushes and romantic interest. Girl is described as being beautiful and wearing tight-fitting clothes.

Language

Juvenile name-calling including "jerk," "jerkwad," scumball," "pervert," and "scumbag fink."

Consumerism

References to Gatorade, Facebook, Post-it notes, Ping-Pong, Popsicle, iPad, Starbucks, McDonald's, and Tupperware.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Spy School Secret Service -- the fifth book in Stuart Gibbs' action-packed Spy School series about children in a secret espionage training school -- deals with manipulation, deceit, friendship, and loyalty. There's nearly constant peril: Children are frequently in deadly danger, often from adults who are supposed to be on their team. Gadgets and gizmos are less essential than building skills, using your brain, and building trusting relationships.

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What's the story?

SPY SCHOOL SECRET SERVICE puts 13-year-old spy-in-training Ben Ripley back on the trail of the super secret (and super devious) criminal organization SPYDER. His mission is to uncover and thwart a plot to kill the president, but Ben ends up becoming the prime suspect in an assassination attempt. Ben's sure he was set up by SPYDER as part of a larger scheme, but proving it -- and clearing his name -- is going to be a challenge when he's forced into hiding and unsure who, if anyone, he can trust.

Is it any good?

Intrigue swirls into a tornado of action in Stuart Gibbs' fifth book in his series about a top-secret spy school for kids, and teen hero Ben is at his best: smarter, savvier, and more confident. Set in Washington, D.C., Spy School Secret Service takes readers behind the scenes at the White House, into a foreign embassy, and deep into the Pentagon. Like most good spy tales, the thickening plot can be a little muddy and takes some head-scratchingly convenient turns, but it's grounded by its focus on relationships among friends, families, and colleagues. The story draws on characters and key moments from earlier books, but newcomers to the series will easily catch up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the risky business of making assumptions in Spy School Secret Service. Have you ever believed something untrue because of your own false assumptions?

  • Much of the action in the Spy School books feels cinematic. Do you picture these scenes like action sequences in movies?

  • What appeals to you about books like these: the tangled plot, the action, the relationships?

Book details

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