The League of Unexceptional Children

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Clever idea, clumsy start to silly spy-kid humor series.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Mentions of Washington, D.C., landmarks and contemporary political leaders.

Positive Messages

It's easy to underestimate people. Sometime what seems like a weakness can be a strength. Setting aside doubt helps you accomplish impressive feats.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jonathan and Shelley -- one lacking confidence, the other having perhaps too much -- are willing to help however they can. The children's families are barely present and appear oblivious to their children's activities.

Violence & Scariness

The vice president is abducted and is possibly being tortured; children are briefly abducted and get into a skirmish with criminals. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The League of Unexceptional Children is heavy on absurd humor and rather light on suspense. The novel slyly mocks the celebration of high achievers and special talents that leaves ordinary kids feeling extraordinarily less than normal. The perilous scenes are played for laughs: kidnappers with exaggerated Russian accents, a villain known for trailing cookie crumbs everywhere, a top-secret message delivered via a jalapeño. Kids are resourceful and willing to rise above their own doubts. None of the characters is particularly inspiring, but female characters get particularly shoddy treatment.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Jonathan Murray is so utterly unmemorable, people he's known his whole life can't remember his name. He's not only surprised to learn he's been tapped for a top-secret spy program, he's baffled as to why they'd want him. But Jonathan and his classmate are naturals for the League of Unexceptional Children, comprising kids who seem to live in the world's blind spot. The vice president has been kidnapped by the Seal, who's trying to break into the federal government's mainframe. And in extraordinary circumstances like this, the fate of the world rests on utterly ordinary kids.

Is it any good?

The idea of turning utter ordinariness into an extraordinary asset is clever, but a lurching, nonsensical plot and weak characters keep this book from rising above average. Some witty lines and gleefully absurd humor can't rescue THE LEAGUE OF UNEXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, the start of a new series about kids who are like "white rice, there but never focused on" who are recruited to save the world.

Quirky characters soon grow tiresome, and the humor wears especially thin concerning female characters: Shelley is a ditsy chatterbox, the agent managing her consistently calls her "doll," the kidnapped vice president's wife is a loud-mouthed hysterical "dame," and the president's female chief of staff is inept. But flashes of smart writing -- including witty exchanges and very funny quotes opening each chapter -- show promise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of stories about kids as spies. What makes this formula so appealing?

  • What are these characters' strengths?

  • Do you think too much attention is paid to high achievers?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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