Simon and Schuster, 2012 291 pgs
Twelve-year-old Ben is whisked out of his suburban Washington DC home by Alexander Hale, C.I.A. agent and into The Academy of Espionage (aka: spy school), where he begins his training as a spy. After a grueling initiation process, where he must fight for his life and field threats from the school bully, Ben settles into his room, only to be attacked by an assassin in the night. Fellow student and Hale's daughter and star pupil, Erika, befriends him and teams up with him to discover the origin of the assassin. Other friendships develop as Ben becomes entrenched in the routine of this very unorthodox school, located by the Washington Mall. Further security breachings and threats to Ben's life (it turns out he is a decoy, incorrectly labeled as a genius computer hacker to ferret out the enemy) make it clear that the administration and C.I.A. are bumbling idiots and it is up to Ben and Erika to find the mole in the school, who is leaking information and out to get him. Still keeping in touch with his friend Mike from "the outside", Mike gets caught trying to spring Ben out of school to go to a party hosted by his crush. Is Mike the mole? Or is it someone from the administration, faculty, or even a fellow student? After a dramatic kidnapping and a showdown involving a secret bunker and a live bomb, the mole is revealed and attempts to convert Ben to the dark side. Which way will Ben chose? Ben's decision and the ensuing results are offered by book's end.
Part mystery/part adventure novel, Gibbs delivers a roller-coaster ride of a story for middle grade readers. Author of the ecologically based mystery series "FunJungle" and the new "Moon Base Alpha" series, Gibbs turns to the world of espionage. This academy is Hogwarts for future government agents. Students carry weapons and classes are all based on learning spy skills. Ninjas appear out of nowhere and students are encouraged to cheat and fight. Within this environment our math-whiz hero is thrown and after a rocky start, begins to find his place. Ben is a great character. He never lets not knowing what is going on or how to do something slow him down and ventures out of his comfort zone willingly. The mystery is solid. The mole was not who I suspected and plenty of red-herrings are thrown in to distract the reader. The non-stop action will keep kids turning pages. Gibbs also throws in humor and zany characters, which adds to the fun. Because of the humor, the book never feels too violent, even though the students are constantly fighting and using weapons. The violence feels like a comic-book and the villains are one-dimensional. Real life connections can be made as to what is currently going on in the world today. All kids will enjoy this book. Spy School has a definite ending and stands alone, but there are two sequels if kids want to read more about Ben and his friends.