I quite enjoyed Robin Benway's first novel, Audrey, Wait! When I heard that her newest book featured a 16-year-old female spy, well, of course I was intrigued. Also Known As proved to be the perfect read for my trip back from Austin last week.
Also Known As features Maggie, a talented safecracker who works with her parents for a shadowy spy organization called The Collective. The 200 members of The Collective, including Maggie's family, travel around the world righting wrongs, through not necessarily legal means (e.g. safecracking). When Maggie gets her first real assignment, however, she finds herself in particularly dangerous territory: a private high school in New York City. Her task is to befriend a cute boy named Jesse, before Jesse's dad can publish a news story about The Collective. Maggie's mission is to gain access to the dad's computer, and find information about who might have leaked the story. But what seems simple enough becomes complicated when (you knew this was coming), Maggie develops personal relationships with a couple of the teens that she encounters. And spies are not supposed to make friends, let alone fall in love.
What I liked best about Also Known As was Maggie's voice. She reminded me a bit of Ananka, the primary narrator for the Kiki Strike series, but with more of a sarcastic streak. She discusses spying matter-of-factly, like this:
"The first rule of being a spy: Listen. Our family friend Angelo always says that a good spy never asks questions, that people will always tell you what you need to know." (Page 4)
"Personally, I would have rather jimmied the lock open because hi, let's play to our strengths, but my parents are always about doing things the simple way. It gets annoying sometimes, I can't lie." (Page 7)
She's just plain funny, too:
"When I was five, I had to leave a princess-style canopy bed behind in Sydney, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was tragic. I think I'm still grieving for that bed." (Page 21)
(Giving herself a pep talk about starting high school for the first time) "You could eat those kids for breakfast. You won't, though, because that would be cannibalistic and wrong." (Page 31)
See? I could go on all day, but I think you get the idea. There are a couple of strong supporting characters, too. Roux, Maggie's first-ever same-age friend, is impressively complex. A former mean girl turned school pariah, Roux has wealthy but neglectful parents. A grumpy doorman is her only real authority figure. She drinks too much, and isn't above turning to prescription meds to help cope with her issues. (Content advisory here, though Maggie steers clear of these substances.)
Maggie's other friend is Angelo, an older man who has been a mentor to Maggie's family for as long as she can remember. He is cryptic about his past, but always gentlemanly and supportive. Bonus points for the way Benway reveals, casually, mid-way through the book that Angelo is gay (through a reference to falling for someone on a case early in his career). Angelo sets up meetings with Maggie by leaving her little sketches of the places that they are supposed to meet, which I loved (sketches not shown).
So, fun premise, solid characters, and fast-paced plot (especially later in the book). All excellent. I was less thrilled with the love story between Maggie and, well, no need for spoilers. There's a bit more description of kissing than I personally needed (though nothing further than kissing). And also quite a bit of conversation along the lines of "you and me against the world", "no one else understands me", etc. I think this will probably all work for the target audience, of course, but I personally would have had a bit less love story and a bit more spying.
That minor quibble aside, I enjoyed Also Known As, and look forward to reading the next book in the series, Going Rogue (which I luckily have, though it's not due out until January). Also Known As is a light-hearted story featuring a teen girl spy who, in addition to having adventures, has to cope with protective parents and the challenges of fitting into the high school shark tank. Something for everyone, I'd say! Recommended for library purchase, especially at the high school level. A great follow-on to the Kiki Strike books, aimed at a slightly older audience.
Publisher: Walker Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).