With a killer title and a great cover, Ally Carter's teen fiction debut I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU will certainly grab the eyes of potential readers. Thanks to the author's quick wit and the book's squeaky clean romance-meets-teenage spy girl storyline, the book will keep readers both laughing and interested.
Cammie Morgan attends the Gallagher Academy, an all-girls school that is known for its emphasis on academics. Adults know it is prestigious; local kids wrongfully assume that the students must be privileged snobs. What outsiders don't know is the school is actually training the young ladies to become spies. Gallagher Girls are trained in the martial arts, taught "real" history, learn political secrets, and are multilingual.
Cammie's mother and father are spies - or were, in the case of her late father, whose death is shrouded in mystery. Her mother, Rachel, is a retired CIA operative and the school headmistress. Cammie is an only child who finds solace in her best friends and classmates, such as clumsy but lovable Liz, brassy British Bex, and anxious Anna, all of whom are also Gallagher Girls. Little does Cammie know the surprises that await her as she enters her sophomore year at the Academy: a new teacher, a new high-profile (and highly caustic) classmate, and a first crush.
Cammie has never had nor wanted a "normal" life - until she meets a local boy who is funny and kind. Of course, he doesn't know she's a spy-in-training, and she can't tell him. This leads to mistaken identities, covert meetings, costume changes (can't wear the spy gear, don't want to wear the private school uniform, must find clothes an average teenager would wear!), and plenty of pratfalls.
Though Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series is all about spies, the first book relies heavily upon the comedic aspects of Cammie's misadventures and has very little violence. It is appropriate for girls in middle school and up, great for adults who read light spy stories, and perfect for fans of The Princess Diaries and Moonlighting. Later books have more violence and traditional spy fare (running from the bad guys, facing off with the bad guys, etc) than the first book.
I don't want to spoil whether or not Cammie gets the guy in first book, but I will tell you that there's a guy in the second book. In fact, there are a lot of guys.
If you liked I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU, then you'll definitely like the follow-up, CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY. The Gallagher students know how their school operates and are used to it being an all-girl campus. When the guys from Blackthorne Institute for Boys come to the Gallagher Academy share their studies and their teachers for the spring semester, some of the girls get distracted while others become suspicious.
Cammie is a bit of both camps. She appreciates the fact that the guy spies are smart and savvy, but she doesn't trust them. She kind of got off on the wrong foot with Zach, one of the spy-guys, and she can't stop thinking about Josh. She also thinks her new schoolmates are hiding something - and they might not be the only ones. Old photographs and overheard conversations make Cammie question her father's schooling and spy work. Will she ever find out what really happened to him?
DON'T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER, the third Gallagher Girls book, is a little more serious than the first two books in the series. At the end of her summer vacation, Cammie visits Macey in Boston, where Macey's father is about to accept a nomination for the vice-presidency. When Cammie follows Macey (and Preston, the presidential hopeful's son) to an appointed place, something happens that neither of the trained spies were expecting: a kidnapping attempt.
It would be easy to say that they escaped unscathed, but that's not true. The attack shakes the girls up, leaving physical and emotional marks on them that will take months to heal. (This, combined with Macey's parental political associations, reminded me of Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White.) By the time they begin their junior year at the Academy, things have yet to really settle down - in fact, they're about to be shaken up even more.
Favorite characters from the first two books appear throughout the third, as do a few new interesting faces. Cammie notably matures throughout the course of the novel, becoming more introspective as she considers what it means to be a spy - what she has to gain, and what she has to give up. While Macey becomes more and more withdrawn, Cammie becomes more determined to figure out the identities of the attackers/kidnappers. In one memorable scene, teacher Joe Solomon discusses motivation:
"What, ladies" - he took a step, scanning the dim room - "is almost always tied to why. There are six reasons anyone does anything: Love. Faith. Greed. Boredom. Fear . . . " he said, ticking them off on his fingers; but he lingered on the last, drawing a deep breath before he said, "Revenge."
I thought about the people on the rooftop, wondered which of those things had brought them there. And why. - Page 187
Additional favorite lines from COVER include:
I found myself remembering that I know fourteen different languages and yet my life is ruled by things I cannot say. - Page 32
There are things spies often carry with them: pocket litter, fake IDs, the occasional weapon-slash-camera-slash-hair accessory. But the heaviest things, I think, are the secrets. They can drown you if you let them. - Page 77
So the three of us sat surrounded by books and secrets and the light of a dying fire, finally realizing that we were the only people in Macey's life who knew not to judge a girl by her cover. - Page 214
Note: Quotes and pagination are from the ARC and may differ in the final version.
If you couldn't tell, I was quite happy with the serious tone which permeated COVER. When the stakes were really raised in the fourth book, ONLY THE GOOD SPY YOUNG, I was positively thrilled. Familiar faces may not be welcomed, as some of the good guys are revealed to be (possibly) bad guys. New characters in powerful positions are introduced, shaking up the school's chain of command and the students' back-to-school routine. When everything goes topsy-turvy, Cammie must decide whom to trust - and trust her gut. Without giving away the ending of book four, I will say that it is, hands down, my favorite ending of any of the books in this series. No contest.
The fifth book, OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF TIME, and the sixth and final book, UNITED WE SPY, cover Cammie's senior year, when the attacks become more personal and the danger even more real. Senior-year Cammie experiences some things that sophomore-Cammie never considered. (Consider, if you will, the difference between early episodes of the TV series COVERT AFFAIRS to its later seasons...then imagine a crossover between these books and that show. Can't you see Annie and Cammie comparing notes, and Liz hanging out with Auggie?) With lives on the line, Cammie is pushed to the edge.
Read the Gallagher Girls books in order:
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy
Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover
Only the Good Spy Young
Out of Sight, Out of Time
United We Spy
Also pick up Double Crossed, which is a crossover story between two Ally Carter series, Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. Double Crossed is a novella, not a full-length novel. It was released after Out of Sight, Out of Time.
This series has become a big hit with my middle school and high school customers. Those I've given the first book to have come back for the second and the third and the rest. One copy of CROSS MY HEART circulated through three girls in less than a month; I then happily discussed the books with each of them in turn. I'd tell you what they said, but then...you know.
Read my exclusive interview with author Ally Carter.
Sneak a peek at my Spies and Sleuths booklist.