If I had judged these books by their covers, I probably wouldn’t have picked them up, since teenage drama at a snobby boarding school isn’t usually my thing. But when I found out the boarding school was just a cover for an elite spy school, I took a second look. And I’m glad I did. I read each of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books straight through in one sitting as fast as I could get them from the library. And I will be adding them to my permanent collection when the book budget has recovered a little.
In order, the Gallagher Girls books are:
It’s hard to talk about all three books without spoiling any of them, especially since each book is full of twists and turns that teach these spies-in-training that the world is not always what it seems. It’s fascinating to watch Cammie, the narrator, approach her world with the skills she’s learned in her years at Gallagher Academy: martial arts, hacking, multiple languages, and other invaluable spy skills. And yet like any teenage girl, she’s often blindsided by her emotions.
Despite being the daughter of the school’s headmistress, Cammie’s specialty is being invisible. She’s known as the Chameleon because she can blend into her surroundings so completely that even her friends can’t find her. She’s also learned how to disappear at school by exploring the old building’s many hidden passageways.
Cammie’s voice is smart and confident, but also funny and very personal with conversational asides sharing her thoughts about boys or the current mission. Her training as a spy pervades her life, with parts of the text even being told in the form of a covert ops report, as well as lists that show Cammie’s ordered mind. Cammie has known for most of her life that she wanted to be a spy like her mom and dad, and it shows in the way she thinks.
Like Cammie, her friends at the Gallagher Academy think like spies, though each has her own background and unique personality. I love how real Cammie and her friends are, and yet how diverse. Each girl feels completely authentic, with her own very believable strengths and weaknesses. They may be taught to hide their emotions and think in terms of neutralizing threats, but even as their skills develop, the Gallagher girls remain very human, very accessible.
In fact, this is one of the themes that runs through the Gallagher Girls books: what does a spy give up in order to be the best she can be? The ability to be herself instead of one of her numerous “covers”? Honest relationships with people who don’t have a high enough clearance? Any semblance of a normal life? Cammie and her friends wrestle with these ideas and the hard decision of whether to pursue the life of a spy with all its dangers.
It’s no surprise that a girl surounded by spies-in-training and taught by ex-spies is also surrounded by secrets. Some of these are relatively harmless, though they might be classified. Others could cost her and her friends their lives. Cammie stumbles across both kinds in her quest to be at least somewhat normal, especially when it involves boys.
And yet Cammie and her friends address the mystery of boys like spies rather than like your average high school girl. In the first book, Cammie creates a cover story to tell her normal boyfriend. She and her friends hack into various government databases looking for dirt on him. And her friend Liz is working on a boy-to-English decoder. These twists on the usual teen-girl-obsessed-with-boy trope were a welcome change.
Things grow a little darker in the second book, with the danger more real than just a class exercise, and darker still in the third book, which leaves us and Cammie with more questions than answers. In fact, the question at the end of Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover gives me that anxious sort of itch that makes me wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book in the series. But I’m sure it will be worth waiting for.
The fourth Gallagher Girls book, Only the Good Spy Young, is scheduled for release in June 2010.
(The first book of Ally Carter’s new series, Heist Society, also looks pretty interesting. Out February 9, 2010.)