The Secret Cipher: The Secret Box Series, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Secret Cipher: The Secret Box Series, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Kids race to save world in fast-paced sequel.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn a bit about codes and cryptography, especially how ancient Greek generals sent secret messages. This episode includes history and travel, including a trip to Boston, Greek mythology, and the Declaration of Independence. Kids who love computer games will love the behind-the-scenes insights on what goes into their development.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, family, love, loyalty, courage -- and creative problem-solving.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jax, Ethan, and Tyler all are believably flawed, but the cousins' deep bond is stronger than their annoying qualities, their own terrors, and the fact that Ethan and Tyler always have plenty of money and Jax doesn't. As in the first book, the kids tell hair-raising lies and half-truths, keeping their parents and most other adults in the dark, and there's more breaking, entering, burglary, and running up parental credit cards -- all to save the world.

Violence

A villain uses magic as a weapon to achieve world domination and to coerce people into doing his bidding; he robs a bank by turning dark, paralyzing magic on all the people there. A character from the world of the Greek gods confirms that Zeus really does inflict gory punishments on those who annoy him. One of the kids is kidnapped.

Sex

A teen girl kisses 17-year-old gamer Tyler, setting many adventures in motion.

Language

References to "butts" and "butt cracks," and a scene where a stall in a crowded rest room is crucial to the kids' break-in efforts.

Consumerism

Best Western hotels, BatmanKlingons. Brief mention of the first volume's events, and an ironic explanation of why the whole thing wasn't made into a movie. Tyler competes in a Magic: The Gathering tournament.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secret Cipher, second volume of the planned Secret Box trilogy, finds cousins Jaqueline (Jax), 12, Ethan, 13, and Tyler, 17, embroiled in more hair-raising adventures. In the process they lie to their parents, run up the parental credit cards, tell assorted whoppers to adults including nuns and prison guards, and burglarize a museum -- but it's all for a good cause, as they have to save the world from a villain bent on enslaving the world with magic from Greek mythology. Their adventures take them to a nursing home, a prison, a comics convention, and historic sites of Boston. Along the way, there are a few "butt" references and some bathroom humor.

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What's the story?

Cousins Jax, Ethan, and Tyler are still recuperating from the events in The Secret Boxbut however fondly Ethan may hope to get his peaceful life back, it's not in the cards. For one thing, Great-Aunt Juniper, who guards the magic urn of Book 1, has disappeared. For another, a beautiful girl in Greek sandals kisses geeky Tyler at a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Also, a bizarre bank robbery closely resembles the crimes of Book 1's villains, who are supposed to be in jail. Between the fear of world-destroying weapons falling into the wrong hands and the excitement of their mysterious new companion, Tyler is soon persuaded to take the wheel for another perilous road trip, and the plot thickens when Jax starts getting emails from someone claiming to be her long-lost father.

Is it any good?

Even reluctant readers will be avidly turning the pages en route to a cliffhanger ending that sets up the finale. It appears that the kids may finally have gotten themselves into something they can't get themselves out of! Wisecracking, determined Jax and shy, sickly Ethan take turns telling the story, with occasional interludes from older brother and successful teen game developer Tyler; they're all very appealing and relatable as they try to solve the secret cipher, avert cosmic mayhem, and grapple with such real-life challenges as the fact that although Tyler and Ethan's family has plenty of money, Jax's single mom doesn't -- and Jax's father is in prison.  

Parents who aren't sure their kids are mature enough to keep the story's larceny, lying, and other peccadilloes in perspective may wish to discuss the issues with them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the world of Greek mythology -- and why a character from that world might like our world better.

  • Have you ever been to a comics or science-fiction convention? How did you like it? What was the most impressive costume? If you were going to one of these gatherings, which character would you dress up as?

  • Do you know any kids who have a parent in prison? How does it affect their lives?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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