Cammie Morgan is a normal teenage girl… Or as normal as any of the girls who attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. It may look like a high-end boarding school for spoiled heiresses, but Gallagher Academy is actually a school for spies. Cammie and her classmates all speak fourteen languages, can disarm a bomb in seconds, and can kill with their bare hands — but sophomore year is the beginning of something new for Cammie and her friends. It’s their first time taking Covert Operations, a class that teaches them the real ins and outs of being a spy. Cammie’s doing great on her first homework mission, until she hits a snag she never counted on. Cammie gets sighted… by a boy. And none of her training has taught her how to handle a normal relationship.
(Mild spoilers after the cut.)
I admit, I’m stretching the definition of science fiction here to include these books, but the girls are super spies who use all sorts of James Bond-esque high tech gadgets, so they aren’t totally out of the realm of the Aliens Among Us category, either. That said, they’re definitely more general YA than most of what we review here — they’re mostly about teen girl friendships, first loves, and fashion, set against a backdrop that happens to involve being spies. And it actually works really well, in some ways, because being a teen girl really can make you feel invisible (as Cammie often does), or like you’re hiding who you are (as Cammie must), or — this one hit me really hard — feel that you can be something special, if you just get the chance. Just like Cammie and her friends. So I kind of love the set up.
That said, the books themselves are very by the numbers in some ways. Cammie is definitely an Everyteen, despite being a spy. She’s the “normal” one of her friends, to the point where her strength in CoveOps class is how normal she seems. She has the standard best friends: a tomboy who looks like a model and a clumsy genius who also looks like a model, but of course, neither of them cares. Only Cammie, who is not nearly as beautiful, notices; and despite the fact that she’s supposed to be the most normal girl in the group, she’s the one the only boys in the series flock to. (That is, of course, definitely a YA standard.) There’s a super-rich mean girl she has to deal with and eventually befriend. She has a pretty good but not perfect relationship with her mom. She does well in school, but she’s not perfect. She’s just like you, but a spy!
So in the first book, Cammie bungles a homework mission but meets Josh, a very cute — but otherwise ordinary — boy. He flirts with her, and that’s a shock, because, since she attends an all-girls school, Cammie’s never really interacted with a boy before. Wacky hijinks ensue as Cammie creates a secret identity so she can go out with him, without him catching on to the Gallagher Academy. In the second book, the girls discover that there’s a spy school for boys, too, and when a group of boys comes to study at Gallagher for a semester, even wackier hijinks ensue.
I can tell you, I would have 100% loved these books when I was 14. Reading as an adult, I’m pretty meh — they were enjoyable, but not great. One thing that really didn’t work for me was the way Cammie really forgot a lot of her spy skills when confronted with Josh. It didn’t work because, while the book did a good job of selling reasons it would have been awkward for her to flirt at all — and to flirt with a normal, townie boy in particular — at the same time, if she’s been training almost her whole life, and she’s such a good spy, and great at CoveOps in particular, why did all of that training to out the window and leave her flustered? When boys aren’t around, Cammie is competent and kick ass; when they show up, she’s just… Not.
Taken to another level, you have my frustration with the second book: show
One other issue with book two: show
With all that said, though, there were some elements of the series that were pretty great. I love that Gallagher is all about sisterhood. The friendships are lovely, and I like that the ultimate moral of the first book is that boys may come and go, but Cammie’s friends will always be there for her. I like the way the books deal with Macey, the mean girl; she shows a fair amount of growth for a supporting character. I love the idea of the school in general — it was founded by Gillian Gallagher, who saved Abraham Lincoln from the first attempt to assassinate him (the one that’s not in the history books), but the CIA didn’t know what to do with a woman, so she founded her own school for exceptional girls. And I love that it’s about girls who are smart, tough, and tenacious.
In the end, these books are a lot of fun, but nothing terribly extraordinary. There were a few moments that were really good, but also a few gags that didn’t work for me. However, as I will almost certainly read the third book once it’s out in paperback, they both get three and a half cupcakes.
Tags: Ally Carter