Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
4Q 4P M/J
Of all the girl spy books, this is the one that's getting the notice and getting the raves. Maybe I'm more lukewarm on it than others because it was the third in the genre that I read pretty much right in a row. It's a good idea to mix things up a little so that books stand out from each other and things don't run together so much, and I didn't do that well this time. There is a lot to like about this book. It's just that it didn't stand out for me the way I expected it to after hearing so many excellent reviews of it.
Ananka Fishbein 's life changes the day she looks out the window of her New York City apartment to see that a sinkhole has appeared in the park next door. She also sees a small figure crawling out of the hole. The small figure turns and waves to her. It's a girl! Ananka has to know more about that girl and the sinkhole. She runs downstairs to explore the hole and discovers a hidden door that she eventually learns leads to the Shadow City. What's the Shadow City? It's a city of passages, tunnels, and secret rooms that lead all over the city. What's down there? Dead bodies, rats (big ones!), and treasure. But Ananka doesn't learn any of that until she discovers who the girl is: Kiki Strike.
Kiki, it turns out, is a student in her own school, but Ananka has never noticed her before. That's a surprising, because Kiki has the kind of looks that make her stand out in a crowd: she's only about four feet tall (but she's at least fourteen) and she has absolutely white hair. She also carries herself with a confidence few other teens can match. Kiki soon introduces Ananka to several girls with unusual talents: there's Betty (a master of disguise), Luz (an electronics genius), Dee Dee (a chemist who's great at explosives), and Oona (an excellent forger and thief). Together they form the Irregulars, and together they explore the Shadow City. All of those unusual skills come in very handy when you're doing something you don't want anyone else to know you're doing.
But Kiki has secrets she isn't telling the others, and when one of their explorations ends in disaster, Kiki disappears and the Irregulars break up. But that's not the end of the story. Ananka keeps getting glimpses and information that lead her to believe the Kiki hasn't gone far. Two years later, Kiki is back, and this time, things are serious. Kiki doesn't need them just to map out and explore the Shadow City. This time, teenage girls are disappearing, and the Irregulars know why and what the kidnappers want. They also know they have the means and skills to get the girls back and stop the kidnappers. But they don't know everything. And they most definitely don't know everything they need to know about Kiki Strike.
This book is chock full of girl power and advice for would-be spies that just happens to be potentially useful in real life, too. Check out the end of most of the chapters for items such as:
"The Benefit of the Doubt: Most people are willing to give young girls the benefit of the doubt. Girls are too sweet and innocent, they think, to be up to no good. A clever story--generally one involving a missing kitten--can get you out of trouble in nine out of ten situations. Remember, a tear or two will make any tale more believable." (page 16)
"Duct Tape: Take a roll with you whenever you travel. It can be used to immobilize criminals, fix essential equipment, and make a cute skirt if you're in a bind." (page 86)
You've got to like a book that can mix strong characters, a sense of humor, and adventure and do it well. This book does. Really. I admit it, it's not ever going to be on my favorite books list, and it's not likely to wind up on my Top Five or Top Ten of 2006 list (as it has appeared on others' lists already). But I will happily recommend it to readers who enjoyed the Sammy Keyes books and to kids who like interesting characters doing interesting things.