by Robin Benway
Read: March 30 - 31, 2013
Published: February 26, 2013 by Bloomsbury Juvenile US
Category: Contemporary YA, Spies
Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover. (From Goodreads)
Do you ever need a palate-cleansing book? You’ve read a few intense, emotional stories and want a new one that is guaranteed to make you laugh and smile and swoon a little? That is exactly what Also Known As was for me. After reading three books in a row that gutted me, I wanted one that was exciting and engaging without being heartbreaking or stressful. Thankfully, that's exactly what I got with this YA contemporary featuring teen spies and NYC private schools.
Maggie’s parents are spies. They work for an organization called the Collective, exposing human traffickers, deposing dictators and secretly solving other problems for the good of mankind. Maggie is an expert safecracker and has been traveling around the world and working with her parents for her whole life. It’s all she knows, and she loves it. But that also means she doesn't have any friends her age, and recently she's started to realize how lonely she is. Then Maggie gets a new case that changes everything. Her family is sent to New York, where Maggie has to attend a real high school for the first time and befriend Jesse Oliver. Jesse's father's newspaper is going to publish a damaging article about the Collective, and Maggie has to find a way to stop him.
Although Maggie can crack any safe she encounters, she quickly discovers that high school has an entirely different set of rules. Not only is she trying to solve this case before it destroys her family and her organization; she’s trying to navigate school and fit in. She also knows that she’s not supposed to get attached to the people she meets. But that’s tough when she’s never had real friends before, and when she discovers that Jesse is more to her than just an assignment.
Also Known As was a lot of fun to read. Although the plot was silly, and far fetched in parts, I laughed out loud in several places, and in all I really enjoyed the story. The book was fast paced and Maggie is likable. Incredibly for a YA book, Maggie has a positive and realistic relationship with her parents. Like all parents, they had to learn how much to guide and how much to let Maggie step out on her own. One of the best parts of this book is the growth of their relationship with Maggie. I also loved Maggie's friendship with her mentor Angelo, and her new school friend Roux, who is quite a character. Jesse Oliver (whom I keep wanting to call Jamie Oliver) is swoony and sweet, and it was fun to watch Maggie fall for him. I did get really worried when Maggie started to realize that she actually likes these people she was trying to con. But I was pleased that the author was able to work out the conclusion without making the Confrontation and Aftermath the center focus of the book.
I did have a few issues with this story. Maggie’s voice is chatty and young and her romance with Jesse stays clean as well. However, she is thrust into a NYC private school and through her friendship with Roux contends with all of that associated drama – excessive drinking, partying, cheating, social wars. There is also a fair bit of cursing in the book (the light kind). I just thought it was odd and slightly distracting that the author took some elements of her book in one direction, and others she kept very clean. Maggie and Jesse also got to the 'declaration of love' part rather quickly, though I liked the way their relationship developed otherwise. If I were going to recommend a teen spy/thief book, I'd still pick The Heist Society series first. Even so, I am glad that I read this one. It was fun and served its purpose well.
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone
Love Triangle Factor: None