Book one of the Alex Rider series. I have a weakness for mental junkfood, which I prefer to indulge in those deliciously pointless kids books that make you feel like you are in the middle of a movie (instead of stuck in some doctor’s waiting room that smells like bleach and old socks). This one actually made it to the big screen (for the record, I haven’t seen it yet), which poster drew me to the book out of sheer curiosity. The author is British, which may explain why you haven’t heard of the series before. Allow me to introduce you.
Plot: Alex Rider is a fourteen year old orphan whose reticent uncle and guardian dies in a “normal” car crash that involved bullet holes in the car windshield. Naturally, being a “normal” teenager, Alex has been trained in gymnastics, 2 black belts, a nanny who worries but doesn’t discipline, and all the investigative skills of a professional reporter. As is normal for such a teenager, he also investigates into his uncle’s death after seeing some guys in black suits with guns at the funeral, and finds out that a) his uncle was a spy, b) he was killed because he got too close to the truth in a crucial investigation that could save England from utter destruction, and c) (brace yourself) the bad guys are now on alert, and spy agency knows of only one way to get in and find the truth before its too late. Alex Rider, teenage spy. Mission One: find out why a businessman wants to give away his greatest invention to all England’s people, yet is highly secretive about its manufacturing and has a small army protecting his factory.
Positive: Finally, a kid’s book that takes its main plot device seriously! Alex may be extraordinary, but at least the agency admits it (and owns to the liabilities associated with having a child do this kind of dangerous work in the modern world). Also, Alex struggles with the idea of being a spy. He finds the whole idea exciting… before he starts in. Being a secret agent is stressful (you could get killed if you mess up), painful (he actually has a hard time with adult boot camp), and downright dangerous (bumps, bruises, and cuts that add to the growing list of things he has to hide about himself); and Alex is real enough as a character to admit he doesn’t like it. Of course, if Alex was able to cop out, there goes the “Alex Rider, Teenage Spy” series. But his reasons for staying on are realistic. Alex’s reactions to death, fighting, and the tension stay real too, keeping the story grounded. Also, the author manages to breathe life into several of those more predictable parts, twisting the usual narrative structure so that small (and not so small) surprises abound. The book uses enough complex words to form complete pictures in your head, and for me played out like a very exciting movie.
Negative: Say it with me, “cliché”; if you can’t uncover the major plot points ahead of time, you need to get out more. It’s a teenager who suddenly finds their relative was a spy and, oh my, they’ve been trained perfectly to fill in their shoes; a villain who is happy to divulge his plan entirely when, oh my, our hero is on the brink of death; and an invention encased in black plastic with lightening for a logo that, oh my, isn’t actually going to do anything good. See “positive” for why that doesn’t equal a boring story (hint, note the “major plot points” above). Scary situations for little kids, and some slight foreshadowing of disrespect for government, and, a person is dies in an unusual way.
Overall: It’s a very well written book, and I have to admit, pretty cleverly thought out. I could figure out some of the tricks, but more than one came as a surprise even though I knew all the facts beforehand (ye posters requesting a good mystery with accurate clues, take heed. We may be close to a whodunit! I didn’t realize the motivation behind the villain until later, but we DO learn about it beforehand). RECOMMENDED, for fun, not edification.