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“Welcome to the wonderful world of espionage,” Erica Hale. —Spy School
Spy School #1
by Stuart Gibbs
Ben Ripley’s just a normal, average middle schooler until he finds a man in a tuxedo sitting on his living room couch. Recruited by the CIA and sent to their secretive training school, Ben finally has a chance at his dream job: secret agent! Unfortunately for him, his innate math skills won’t help while he’s battling ninjas, fighting off assassins, dodging insane professors, or just trying not to die on the first day of class.
With all the crazy combat and intense classes, Ben starts to miss his normal life and regrets accepting the spy school’s invitation. After learning the CIA is using him to discover an evil mole within their organization, Ben has an opportunity to prove to everyone that he’s capable of saving the day. Joining forces with Erica Hale, the top spy in the school, the duo hunts down the nefarious double-agent under the CIA’s nose. After cracking codes, stealing secrets, and dodging bullets, Ben and Erica realize the mole is closer than they think! Will Ben and Erica stop the mole before their master plan is complete?
Spy School is a non-stop spy thrill ride. From car chases in Washington to killer ninjas in math class to fighting off an assassin with a tennis racket in his underwear, it seems Ben Ripley never gets a break at his new school. However, with the intense, heart-pounding action sequences, Gibbs manages to keep the action appropriate for young readers.
Although Ben Ripley isn’t a super spy, middle school readers will relate to his insecurities and desire to fit in. Ben moves to a new school and has trouble making friends because both bullies and teachers pick on him. The administration uses him to find a flaw in their organization, and no one thinks he can succeed. As the story progresses, readers root for Ben as he fights off bad guys, makes friends, and grows confident in his spy abilities.
Fans of espionage thrillers will enjoy Spy School with its fast-paced action, witty jokes, and plot twists. The story of friendship, self-determination, and self-belief will entertain readers as it teaches positive lessons. Readers will learn the importance of being themselves and that everyone has value. With its tame violence and mild language, the Spy School series is a good precursor for other espionage series, like The Theodore Boone series and The Gallagher Girls series. Altogether, Spy School is an engaging story for readers that will keep them on the edge of their seats with its intense action scenes and surprise ending.
- Ben has a crush on Erica. When they first met, Erica tackles Ben to the ground and Ben thinks to himself, “The girl sitting on my chest appeared to be a few years older than me, fourteen or fifteen, with thick dark hair and incredibly blue eyes… She even smelled incredible, an intoxicating combination of lilacs and gunpowder.” However, Erica is often cold to Ben, and there is no “romance” in the story.
- When Alexander Hale and Ben arrive at Spy School, Alexander knows something is wrong. The campus was quiet when it “ought to be crawling with people right now.” Ben gets out of the car and runs as “something crackled in the distance. A tiny explosion erupted in the snow to my left. Someone was shooting at me!” Alexander shoots back as Ben reaches the dormitory door. Ben runs into the dormitory area and “something suddenly swept my feet out from under me. I landed flat on my back. A split second later someone dropped on me, sheathed entirely in black except for the eyes. Each knee pinioned one of my arms to the ground.”
- During the fight, Ben meets his attacker, Erica Hale. Erica is a fellow student who hands him a taser and commands him to follow her as they head to the Nathan Hale Administration Building. As they head up the stairs, Erica notices two enemy agents, so she commands Ben to cut through the library and make it to the principal’s office. Erica attacks them and Ben runs into the library as “gunfire raked the carpet behind me and splintered the doorjamb as I lunged for safety.” Ben heads up a spiral staircase and “a bullet pinged off the banister just as I reached the third floor.”
- Ben notices a black-clad man clutching a machine gun darting toward his staircase. Ben grabs a book from one of the shelves and drops it from the railing. “From below came the distinct thud of book colliding with a skull, followed by the grunt of the assassin collapsing.” As enemy agents start to surround him, Ben quickly finds the principal’s door. Ben throws himself against the locked door. Ben “flipped on my taser and jammed it into the keypad. The tiny screen flickered as I shocked the system. Then the electricity overloaded, and every light in the hall blew out, plunging me into darkness.” Ben makes it into the principal’s office where Alexander Hale, Erica, and the principal inform him he just failed the first test of Spy School. This scene takes place over 15 pages.
- After talking in Professor Crandall’s Introduction to Self-Preservation class, Professor Crandall tests Ben’s knowledge with a pop quiz. Crandall opens a door by the podium and three ninjas vault through. They are clad in black from head to toe and armed to the teeth. As Ben tries to escape through the back door, “a throwing star embedded in the door. I spun to find the ninjas creeping slowly up the steps. The one in front spun a pair of razor-sharp sai knives. The other two twirled nunchucks.” As Ben runs away, he hears something whistling through the air behind him. Ben “turned to find a nunchuck quickly closing the gap between the ninja who’d thrown it and my forehead. This was followed by an absolutely incredible amount of pain.” Ben is knocked unconscious. This scene takes place over two pages.
- During the school’s annual war game, Ben is chased by an attacker he recognized from Chemistry 102: Poisons and Explosives. Ben jumps down a snowy slope head first as “a paintball whistled past my ear and splattered a rock.” Ben lands on rocks below, feet first, as his attacker levels a gun. All of a sudden, “a red paintball nailed her in the helmet, splattering all over her faceguard.” Zoe, one of Ben’s friends and teammates, shoots the attacker in the head.
- Then, Ben and Warren decide to attack the other team’s flag on the other side of campus. There’s only one problem, the enemy team has Bullseye Bailey, the best sniper “rumored to be able to decapitate a flea with a bullet from a mile away.” As Warren distracts Bailey, Ben becomes distracted, and Warren ends up covered in blue paint. “As this happened, something burst out of the snow on our side of the mill, away from the action. It took me a moment to realize it was a person. Someone who’d somehow dug through the snow to within mere feet of the guards without them noticing.” Erica appears from out of the snow and captures the flag before anyone realizes what has happened.
- As Ben is held in the school’s security room, he watches as Alexander and a team of agents surround the enemy on campus. “Video images were now coming up faster and faster as the agents tried to track everything that was happening on the surface at once. I caught glimpses of the enemy hurtling past cameras in the woods, teams of CIA agents en route to the dormitory.” The agents attack the enemy and “a dozen nets were launched at once. Four hit their target, while two took out agents who got caught in the crossfire. The enemy went down in a heap, tangled in nets, then rolled over to find fifty agents converging on him with guns raised.” However, the enemy turned out to be Mike Brezinski, Ben’s best friend. At that moment, “an explosion blew the steel door off its hinges behind me… Sedation darts took out the agents at the monitors before they could even reach for their guns.” Another dart nailed Ben in the shoulder. This scene takes place over four pages.
- Murray tries to escape the school, but Ben orders Murray to stop or he will shoot him with his M16. “Murray froze and turned around, allowing me to see he also had a gun in his hand. He aimed right back at me.” Murray opens fire and the first bullets hit a tree two feet to Ben’s right. Ben returns fire, hitting the roof of the Hale Building. “The ice on the steep peaked roof had frozen into a crust several inches thick. Both my bullets pounded into it, sparkling a network of fractures. A few small glaciers calved free and rocketed off the roof, knocking a dozen massive icicles loose from the eaves en route.” Ice flattened Murray, who is arrested. This scene takes place over two pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Ben calls Chip a jerk. Erica says, “Jerks hang you up from the flagpole by your underwear. They don’t blow up schools.”
- Ass is used one time. Ben tries to break into the principal’s office by slamming himself against the door. However, “It was locked. I bounced off it and landed on my ass in the hall.”
- Ben tells Erica how someone tried to coerce him into hacking the school’s mainframe. Erica says, “And thus would’ve kept his hands clean. Doing something stupid isn’t so stupid if you can get someone else to do it for you.”
- In an attempt to save his own life after an assassin sneaks into his room, Ben tries to ramble on about how to break into the CIA’s mainframe. The assassin detects Ben’s lies and says, “I’m not an idiot. And I’ve run out of patience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
- Chip doesn’t believe Ben took on an assassin all by himself and says, “He’s a dork. If that had been a real assassin, he’d be dead.”
- During Chip and Ben’s fistfight after the war game, “dozens of students and faculty had just returned from the war game only to find us writhing about on the floor like a couple of idiots.”
by Matthew Perkey