Urban Outlaws

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Urban Outlaws Book Poster Image
Fun, tech-savvy start to orphaned spy kids series.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

References to several programming languages and the behavior of computer viruses. Discussion of online privacy and ethics, hacking, media piracy, password security, and theft. Some references to mythology and artists.

Positive Messages

The outlaws show that unconventional groupings can work as families. A hard and difficult existence is made more manageable by joining with others and seeking opportunities to do good. It's important to step up to help even with matters that shouldn't be your responsibility. Characters do engage in hacking and other questionable behavior -- such as illegally riding a moped -- but their intentions are good.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The kids are tight-knit and devoted to each other. Although they enjoy their way of life, they try to reunite the youngest and newest member of their team with her family. They're patient problem-solvers, devoting considerable time to brainstorming and rehearsing potential solutions. For fun, the kids go RAKing -- committing random acts of kindness in the form of food, medicine, and material help. They fund their charitable work by stealing from criminals. 

Violence

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. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

A few pop culture references -- Star Wars, Marilyn Monroe -- and brand names including Rollerblade, Dumpster, Microsoft, and Volkswagen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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 ...

  • Families can talk about the outlaws' hacking habits. Is hacking ever justified?

  • Do you find these characters believable?

  • Parents and tweens can review our tips for protecting online privacy and safety.

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