I loved Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller so much that I added it to my Top Picks for 2006 (so far) list before I had even finished it. I want to buy it for all of the 12-year-olds I know, especially the girls. I flagged some dozen pages for possible quotation (and that was holding back, trying not to flag too many). I can't wait for there to be a sequel.
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City is told by Ananka Fishbein, looking back at the age of 18 on events that she participated in six years earlier. The mysterious Kiki Strike invites her to be part of the Irregulars, a group of six 12-year-old girls, each with special skills, who solve crimes and undertake adventures. In addition to the leader, Kiki (who aspires to be dangerous), and the bookish Ananka, there is also the inventor Luz, the chemist DeeDee, the master of disguise Betty, and the forger and thief Oona.
Their first adventure is to conquer the Shadow City, a mysterious region located deep beneath the streets and buildings of New York City. They discover a secret entrance into this hidden world, one that hasn't been visited in 100 years. They prepare for their trip, developing maps and equipment and special outfits, and a means of staving off the rats. They find skeletons and treasures, and many entrances from the Shadow City back into day-to-day New York. The Shadow City is way cool!
Soon, however, things take an unexpected and dangerous turn, and Kiki disappears, along with some gold. For two years, Ananka and the others wonder what happened to her, as circumstances suggest that their "friend" Kiki is much more dangerous than they ever imagined. Eventually Kiki returns, and further dangers ensue.
What's great about this book is how strong all six girls are. They each special strengths, they form a team, they look out for each other, and they take down bad guys. The other tremendously fun thing about the book is that Ananka ends each chapter with a short how-to section for would-be girl spies and adventurers. These are hilarious as well as practical, and they repeatedly counsel taking advantage of the hidden benefits to being a girl in this sort of situation. For example:
"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)
"How to Foil a Kidnapping: Anyone with half a brain can recognize many of the tricks that kidnappers play. Strangers offering candy, puppies, or modeling advice should be avoided at all costs. No one's that friendly." (page 280)
It's unusual to have the book be told looking back from six years ahead, but I think that it works. Ananka's voice is confident and humorous, and she's able to slip in plenty of tidbits that suggest that her life has remained interesting. Here are two more of my favorite quotes:
"Confidence is the force that runs the world. Mixed with a dose of charm, it has the power to produce everything from prom queens to presidents." (page 87)
"Simply put, women's intuition is the little voice inside your head that whispers that your new boyfriend may be bad news, that you shouldn't take the shortcut through that dark alley, or that your sister has been snooping through your stuff again." (page 232)
All in all, I can't praise this book enough. It's funny, and yet filled with adventure. The characters are strong, but likable, too. It's well-written and fun to read. I'm not sure if boys will like it, since all of the main characters are girls. But I'm certain that middle school girls will love it.
Book: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
Author: Kirsten Miller (see also Ananka's website and blog)
Original Publication Date: May 30, 2006
Age Range: 12 and up
Other Blog Reviews: Rave Reviews Log, A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, Chasing Ray, bookshelves of doom
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.