Saturday, September 30, 2006

Spies, Spies, and More Spies!

Girl spy book #2: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

I liked this book, too, but it's less focused on actual spying than it is on how difficult it is to conduct a romance when you're a teenage spy in training.

One of the things that's most fun about this book is the description of the Gallagher School for Girls, which is where the story takes place. We just don't know the half of it out here in the "real" world. For instance, who knew about the first assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln? You know (well, no, I guess you don't!), the one foiled by Gillian Gallagher, who killed the assassin with a sword. Who knew someone once planted a bomb in the White House that a Gallagher Girl defused...with her teeth? The Gallagher School is deep undercover, as befits a school for spies. The locals think it's a school for rich, spoiled girls. It is very, very exclusive. But every now and then, someone breaches the defenses one way or the other. When that happens, as it does when a senator, his cosmetic heiress wife, and their very, very disaffected daughter, Macey pull up to the front gates, a Code Red sounds. Instantly, walls turn around, displays disappear into the floor to be replaced by something more innocuous (sports trophies and the like), "Vote for Emily" banners appear, and so on. We learn later on that the school has numerous secret passages, too, also befitting a school for spies. The girls' curriculum is, of course, geared to those things that spies need in order to get by: foreign languages, Culture and Assimilation, Countries of the World (COW), Covert Operations (the professor is seriously hot), and P&E (Protection and Enforcement). In short, this school is just plain fun to picture, and the description of the Code Red and the various courses help set the tone for the rest of the book. Which it might be a good idea for me to finally get around to talking about!

Cammie Morgan is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the school's headmistress. She speaks fourteen languages fluently, including Portuguese, Mandarin, and Farsi, and she knows seven different ways to kill a person, one involving a piece of dry spaghetti. She's known as the Chameleon, because she has a real talent for blending in to the background. She has two good friends, Bex and Liz. Since Cammie, Bex, and Liz are long on spy knowledge and short on boy knowledge, the addition of Macey (reluctantly, on both sides of the equation) to their group becomes important, since Macey, while totally lacking in spy knowledge, is a fount of information on boys.

Remember that seriously hot Covert Operations professor I mentioned earlier? The caper begins when he assigns Cammie, Bex, and Liz to tail one of their professors to a local street fair and determine what he drinks with his funnel cake. This professor is so paranoid that he gets plastic surgery every year to completely change his looks, so their chances of succeeding on this mission are about zero. Sure enough, Bex and Liz get spotted almost immediately. But Cammie, chameleon that she is, manages to evade the professor's notice. She does not, however, escape the notice of a very cute boy, who happens to find her just as she's taking the professor's Dr. Pepper bottle out of the trash can. If Josh were a master villain, Cammie would have no trouble taking him on. But he's a fifteen-year-old boy who's a cross between a young George Clooney and Orlando Bloom, so Cammie's tongue-tied and awkward. She manages to blurt out that the bottle is for her cat, Suzie, who likes to play with bottles (lie!). When he says he'll see her at school, she can't think what to say, leaving him with the impression she's home schooled for religious reasons. (lie! But she can't tell him where she really goes to school, of course!) And, oh yeah, she just barely remembers to tell him her name and get his. She's so addled by Josh that all she really knows is that she really, really wants to see him again. But that's easier said than done. All of her spy skills are going to be needed here, not just to see him again, but also because it's possible that Josh isn't who or what he says he is. Is he just a cute teenage boy, or is he really an enemy agent trying to compromise the school? The girls don't know, but for the sake of true love, they're determined to find out. The rest of the book revolves around how Cammie can sneak out of school (this is a spy school, so that's supposed to be difficult) to meet Josh and how she can avoid letting him figure out her real story.

This is another fun book, but definitely one that goes over the top here and there. This is a top-notch spy school, but one of the professors is seriously deficient in any kind of spy skills (I guess he's a desk man, not a field operator!). Another professor we don't really meet is apparently a scientific genius, but very prone to having major explosions and other catastrophes in his lab. That's really fun to read about, but it leaves you wondering how good he really is. And Cammie seems to be able to sneak in and out of the school at will, despite the fact that this school is supposed to be loaded with every kind of security device and run by experts in their fields. These top operatives don't know how to keep a proper eye on teenage girls? They'd surely know all the tricks, and they ought to know at least as much about the secret passages as Cammie does. But no, these adults are clueless. According to, this book has been optioned for the movies. It'll be interesting to see what they do with it. I hope they don't dumb it down the way they did The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted.

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