#1267 – CITY SPIES by John Ponti



Written by John Ponti
Illustrations by Yaoyao Ma Van As
Aladdin 3/10/2020
384 Pages   Age 8—12

Genre:  Middle Grade Novel, Fiction
Themes:  Foster Children, Computer Hacking, Second Chances



Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City juvenile justice system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, she finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret team of young MI6 agents.

Operating out of a centuries old manor house on the coast of Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from around the world. When they’re not attending an elite boarding school, they’re training for their roles as the biggest secret in the British Secret Intelligence Service.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a notorious villain, all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy . . . (from back cover)

Opening Sentences

“Sara looked at the water stain on the wall and imagined it was an island. She wasn’t sure if that was because it actually looked like one or just because she so desperately wished she were in some tropical paradise far from Brooklyn and this tiny room on the eighth floor of Kings County Family Court.”

Why I like City Spies

Brooklyn begins her life as a spy rather curiously, from juvie hall. Brooklyn is a twelve-year-old foster child named Sara, from which one hopes is an atypical foster home.  It isn’t. After a confusing and—if you ask her attorney—spectacular court appearance (by her attorney), Sara is on her way to Scotland and a boarding school in a castle. She will meet four other kids, all about her age, and all from similar yet different situations. She met Sydney, age 14, the night before. Sydney was Emily, Sara’s cellmate in juvie. Now, the girls and Mother (he played the role of “expensive attorney”) are in a limo headed for a plane, headed for the U.K., and the aforementioned school in a castle, unless . . .

. . . Sara accepts Mother’s offer. If she accepts, Sara will become Brooklyn, live at the FARM, and train as a spy in an elite secret team for MI6. At the FARM, Brooklyn will meet Kat, age 13, Paris, age 15, and Rio, age 12; all named for where they came from. Brooklyn has exceptional computer hacking skills, which will help the team on their next mission, just a few weeks away. That mission, like all spy missions, is secret. You need to know only what you need to know and only when you need to know it. Suffice it to say, the mission is quite an adventure into a land of high-tech. A mission as exciting and fast-paced as that well-known fictitious British spy’s missions always were.

The kids of the FARM all start as rough, indifferent kids left behind by family and society. In addition to the hard work of learning to be a spy with a honed skill and an ability to lean on teammates, these kids must learn how to be a family. Complicating matters is an ex-teammate now on an opposing team and holding a grudge.

City Spies will hold the attention of any reader who loves mystery, adventure, fast-paced action, and kids overcoming adversity. Oh, and humor, there is humor. The pages could not turn fast enough for me. The story kept me glued. The characters, all well developed, have individual quirks worth remembering. Even the hotel, created to be unremarkable, is remarkably memorable. Kids will love all the fanciful spy gear, the large international summit, and the elusive villain who may not be who he seems to be. I have  never been to Paris, so I do not know if the author’s details are true or even close to true (except the Eiffel Tower, I know about that), but even if it is all made up, kids will love the underground areas and the possibilities they hold for the future. City Spies is perfect for those who like reading by flashlight, late into the night (weekend night, not school night). Speedy spy chases are included.

City Spies is the first book in a new adventure series by James Ponti. I never heard of the man until this book came my way. City Spies is not Mr. Ponti’s first middle grade novel, nor will it be the last of his books I read. My next allowance is going towards the purchase of all his middle grade books. I have read Mr. Ponti always writes as well as he did in City Spies—that is, if reviewers can be believed.

Favorite Sentence /Scene

I loved every page, every scene. In particular, the underground city of Paris and the hotel the kids stay in while at the summit. I’m afraid if I say one thing I will spill and then spoil it all.

Available at Amazon    (also, click here to read first 3 chapters/ “Look Inside” on cover)

CITY SPIES. Text Copyright © 2020 by James Ponti. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Yaoyao Ma Van As. Published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, New York, NY.

Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[558 word count-review only]

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