A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Urban Outlaws kicks off a series about five orphans who live in a secret bunker and mete out their own form of justice: They steal from "bad guys" and give the money to needy recipients through random acts of kindness. They're modern-day Robin Hoods. The book sometimes clumsily draws on stock elements of the spy genre but is infused with a lively, tech-savvy spirit that will delight tweens. The violence isn't graphic, but it's intense: Agents for the government and a powerful criminal are relentless and menacing. Kids are held captive and threatened with guns. The story touches on issues of online safety and privacy and the ethics of hacking, which could lead to interesting questions about living in a digital world. The government is portrayed as untrustworthy and frightening. One of the kids is described as chubby and portrayed as obsessed with food and excessively sedentary.
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What's the story?
Hidden in an underground bunker at an abandoned subway station, five smart tweens have carved out a life together as the Urban Outlaws, stealing from thieves and giving the riches to people in need. Jack, Charlie, Slink, Obi, and Wren combine their talents -- writing code, inventing gadgets, outsmarting security systems -- in hopes of making the world a better place. They stumble upon a tug-of-war between the government and the crime boss Del Sarto for control of Proteus, a groundbreaking quantum computer capable of hacking into government systems and stealing secrets. With the help of their benefactor, the Urban Outlaws put their lives on the line to stop them.
Is it any good?
URBAN OUTLAWS is a solid entry in the tech-thriller genre. Tweens will love the fantastic premise: a group of smart, talented kids living on their own in a cool bunker outfitted with plenty of video games. This action story boasts particularly strong female characters: Charlie is the gadget whiz, inventing cool tools to solve unique problems, and Wren is stronger and braver than her size would suggest.
Some awkward components -- sudden shifts to contemplative flashbacks, the kids' access to high-tech gear, the fact that kids this age have devoted themselves to pestering money launderers and arms traffickers -- are easily forgiven thanks to nonstop action and the appeal of this loyal crew of friends. There's plenty of adventure to satisfy adrenaline junkies and enough heart to keep it grounded. A promising start to the series.
Talk to your kids about ...
- Author: Peter Jay Black
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
- Publication date: October 7, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 11
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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