The Ability

Common Sense Media says

Brilliant, thrilling story of kids training in mind control.

Age(i)

2
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5
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8
9
10
11
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

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

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.

Violence

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.

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

Parents say

Kids say

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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?

QUALITY
 

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 everywhere in this brilliantly crafted tale, 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.

Families can talk 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

Author:M.M. Vaughan
Illustrator:Iacopo Bruno
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry
Publication date:April 23, 2013
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The Ability was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byMobilelyn June 11, 2013
AGE
9
QUALITY
 

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 pages. No thanks.
What other families should know
Too much violence

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