The Ability

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Ability Book Poster Image
Brilliant, thrilling story of kids training in mind control.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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

Educational Value

The Ability raises important ethical issues about the use of special powers and a government exploiting kids to achieve its mission. Issues are raised in school settings in ways that are likely to resonate with kids, from describing the engaging technology the students use to portraying self-serving administrators.

Positive Messages

Family love and loyalty play a big role here, for both good and ill. Friendship is a new and precious experience for some characters. An adult character delivers an eloquent speech praising a kid who refuses to go along with animal torture and turns on the torturer.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Chris is a very appealing character who tries to do the right thing under challenging, sometimes morally ambiguous conditions. The friendships he forms with the other kids allow them to work together and have one another's backs in dangerous situations. The adult characters range from apparently benign to obviously evil, but there's a lot of lurking mystery about the "good" adults, and the chief villainess has a very good reason for turning to the dark side.


Several adult characters are reduced to gibbering mindlessness by mind-control techniques. The book opens with the violent death of one child and the kidnapping of another, who's been left for dead by her companions. Protagonist Chris' soldier father has been killed in an unnamed war, probably Iraq/Afghanistan. Adults order kids to hurt animals as part of their training, and how the kids respond significantly defines their characters -- and their relationship with adults who don't condone the torture.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Ability is a brilliant, suspenseful debut from M.M. Vaughan about kids with telepathic powers being trained in mind control as part of a secret operation. Some young readers may find certain aspects of the story bewildering or scary: a young girl is abandoned and left for dead by her companions, people have their minds essentially wiped clean, animals are abused as part of the kids' training, and the protagonist's mom, devastated by the death of his soldier dad, is in a state of mental collapse and has spent seven years sitting in a chair surrounded by trash. The darkness of The Ability is essential to the good-vs.-evil plot, as well as to the development of the characters and their ability to rise above bad beginnings. It also offers food for thought about such big issues as revenge, national security, and adults exploiting kids and animals to achieve their various purposes.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byMobilelyn June 11, 2013

Not for my 9 year old.

My 9 year old daughter got 2% into the book on her kindle and became terrified. There is knife cutting, kidnapping & stressful peril in the first few p... Continue reading

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What's the story?

A mysterious secret operation involving telepathic kids goes badly awry, with one boy killed and a girl deserted by her companions and kidnapped by evil people. Thirty years later, in present-day London, 12-year-old Christopher Lane has been lying, stealing, and doing anything else he can to keep his family going, because his mother has been in a state of mental collapse since his soldier father was killed seven years earlier. His bleak life takes an unexpected turn when he's given an unusual test and suddenly whisked from his awful school to a top-secret government program where he and other kids with THE ABILITY get intensive mind-control training. Meanwhile, not far away, twin boys are getting the same training from their scary mom. How these plots converge, and what they reveal about the characters, make for a thrilling, touching, and thought-provoking read, whose ending leaves plenty of room for sequels.

Is it any good?

This is a brilliantly crafted tale. First-time author Monica Meira Vaughan, born to South American parents living in Spain who moved to London when she was 5, taught herself English by watching Sesame Street and reading lots of Roald Dahl. This foundation is evident here, from the quality of the writing to the twistiness of the plot and the complexity of the real-life issues the characters are dealing with (not to mention one kid who comes from Spain and speaks fractured English). There are strong themes of responsibility, loyalty, and friendship, and complex ethical questions. Iacopo Bruno's Gothic-tinged illustrations add to the intrigue.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why books about mind control are so popular. What others do you know?

  • Do you know kids like Chris who are dealing with dysfunctional parents? How do they cope?

  • Do you think Mortimer and Ernest's mom is justified in pursuing her horrible revenge? What would you do if you were in her place and had been through what she'd been through?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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