Thursday, November 7, 2013

Also Known As, Robin Benway

Also Known AsI cracked my first lock when I was three. I know that sounds like I'm bragging, but really, it wasn't that hard.

"Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover."

Also Known As is another one of those books that I have really mixed feelings about. One the hand, it was a fairly fast-paced book with action, but on the other, as soon as you stop to really think about the book, the whole thing kind of falls apart. I mean, the characters are thinly developed, and the mysterious spy organization they work for even less so. The book is also really predictable, and while it seemed to get some of the spy aspects right, others didn't work well at all for me.

That said, AKA is a fun and funny read; it's good entertainment, and the main character can be humorous at times, with her sarcasm and rueful reflection. The teenage characters in the novel are also pretty realistic in terms of their interactions, even if they weren't fleshed quite enough. Maggie's family did not, however, seem like spies; I just couldn't buy it, probably because there was so little information about the organization that they work for that it all felt very forced. Most of the spy details rung true, mainly about real spies being super "beige"; that is, blending in with the crowd, rather than wearing trench coats and dark glasses and all of that. I enjoyed the descriptions of Maggie picking locks, but the password hacking did not seem realistic at all. I seriously doubt that many people use passwords like their kid's names or their date of birth anymore, considering that practically every website ever warns you not to do that. That little detail nagged at me, and it was so annoying. I would've liked some actual info about how to hack accounts rather than Maggie just being able to do it. 

The other children's spy/detective books I've read recently are the two Ruby Redfort books, which are more humorous but way less realistic. Unlike Maggie and her fellow spies, Ruby and the secret agency Spectrum have all sorts of utterly implausible gadgets. Ruby Redfort is kind of fantastical; AKA is grounded in realism. Although I will say that the mission Maggie is assigned hardly seems like a real thing. The book also isn't very thrilling, which you might expect of a spy novel. It's very ordinary, and kind of formulaic.

Of course there had to be romance in the book, and that I didn't like much. I did, however, like the rapport between Jesse and Maggie, and Maggie and her new-found friend Roux. And the book raised interesting questions in terms of Maggie struggling to actually not get attached to the people at the school. 

Basically, Also Known As is good for an afternoon of fun and entertainment. Just try not to analyze it too much. The reading level was a bit lower than I was expecting, but not too bad. And Maggie was a fairly intelligent and interesting character. It's not a book I would recommending buying though; I was glad that I checked it out of the library, as it's not a book I would want to reread.

308 pages. 

Rating: ****

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