Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Alibi, Alibi, Who Needs an Alibi?

Alibi High by Greg Logsted
3Q 4P; Audience: M/J

Living life on the run, constantly looking over your shoulder for danger, surviving attempts on your life - it's all easier than being in high school. That's the conclusion that Cody comes to when his father sends him to live with his aunt after their narrow escape from a bomb.

All Cody has known from his very earliest memories is the life of a CIA spy. That's his dad's job, and it's his, too. He knows how to tail a suspect and how not to be tailed himself. He knows how to spot suspicious characters in a crowd, and he knows how to keep them from spotting him. He knows five languages and how to fire a gun. He's got black belts in two different martial arts. He knows how to take care of himself.

What he doesn't know is how to be a teenager. He doesn't know how to dress (Baggy pants with all those pockets? What's wrong with a suit and tie?). He doesn't know how not to tick off every teacher he's got (Don't they want to know when they have their facts wrong?). He doesn't know how to make friends with the guys, and he doesn't have a clue how to deal with girls (Cell Phone Girl thinks he's a psycho and he can't even talk to Renee). Why did he think high school would be easy?

As if that's not bad enough, Cody can't shake off the memories of being in that cafe when the bomb went off. Everywhere he looks, there's a Yankees cap. Every strange sound makes him twitch. He can't sleep. He's taken to patrolling the house at night. He can't shake the feeling that he's being watched. He's right. There's someone out there. Who is it, and why is he there?


Readers expecting the constant adrenaline surge of the Alex Rider series may be a little disappointed, but they shouldn't count this book out. The pace and tension build throughout the book.

I appreciated the way Logsted made Cody's training so much a part of his every day life, particularly in the beginning. When he arrives at the airport, he instantly scans the area and people for signs of danger. He's aghast to learn that his aunt is naked - meaning she's not carrying a gun. When an enemy (such as the school security guard) comes too close, he instantly calculates how best to bring him down. A walk isn't a simple walk, it's a reconnaissance mission. Because of those touches, it made it easier to buy the premise that he is, essentially, a born spy.

I also liked the relationship between Cody and Andy, a former Army Ranger who lost his arm while in the service. They each quickly recognize the signs of someone who's been through the wars and bond over nightly surveillance surveys, martial arts, and post-traumatic stress syndrome (the latter unspoken). At the same time, Cody is never quite sure if he can trust Andy.

Okay, it's a cliche to have the gym teacher be a jerk. I liked this storyline anyhow, right down to the martial arts demo and the principal's (eventual) reaction. (I really enjoyed Cody's descriptions of his various meetings with Mrs. Owens. As Cody says, the humor grows on you.)

Logsted hits just the right notes as far as the romance angle is concerned. It's there, with just enough humor, but not enough to put off readers who aren't into it. The junior high dynamics are spot on.

I'm not as fond of the ending as I am of the rest of the book. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that I had a "You have to be kidding me" reaction, mostly relating to the actions and motivations of a particular character. But the nicely-built tension and great action will make many readers overlook that.

I expect this one to be a hit with my sixth-eighth grade boys, and I'm glad to have another book to recommend to the Horowitz, Muchamore, Higson, Sniegoski, and Butcher fans.

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