I charged through Ally Carter's YA caper novel Heist Society like a rhinoceros on a mission, so I was hoping her Gallagher Girls series would prove equally absorbing. Unfortunately, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You and its sequel, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, were disappointingly light on plot despite the charms of their "teen girls at spy school" premise. Happily, the series won me over with its third book, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover. It has plot developments oozing out of its ears, making it an excellent pick for reluctant readers and balancing out the flimsiness of the two earlier installments.
The Gallagher Girls books are told from the perspective of Cammie Morgan, a high school student attending the Gallagher Academy, a top-secret boarding school for female spies-in-training. Cammie has spent years studying hand-to-hand combat, foreign languages, and advanced encryption, but her real skill is the ability to fade into a crowd. She's a gifted pavement artist—a spy who specializes in following people in public.
The first book in the series focuses on Cammie's feelings for Josh, a civilian boy with a gift for picking her out of a crowd despite her spy training. One wonders if Carter originally intended to make their relationship an ongoing one, but by book two Josh has been replaced by Zach, a mysterious spy-in-training from the Blackthorne Institute, the male equivalent of the Gallagher Academy. Carter might have been better off condensing the first two books into one. As it is, the romantic drama from the first is a non-starter in the second, and the two books feature embarrassingly similar climax sequences. Combining the stories would have created more personal conflict—which boy should Cammie pursue?—and given that poor, overused plot climax a rest. (Plus, it would have saved me nine bucks. What is up with charging $8.99 for a 288-page paperback, Hyperion?!?) Thankfully, book three finally gets the plot moving. There are new enemies, deepening relationships, and a fun twist ending, making it a huge step forward for the series.
I'll be reviewing the fourth Gallagher Girls book on the main site tomorrow. It features the series' best blend of plot elements and relationship evolution to date, and I really enjoyed reading it. However, if you're unwilling to wade through hundreds of pages of pointless teen angst just to get to the butt-kicking/name-taking bits, skip this series entirely and pick up a copy of Heist Society instead. It's cheaper*, it works as a standalone novel (although Carter is planning a sequel), and it offers a similar blend of romance, suspense, and cheesy-fun action.
*Amazon is currently selling it for a mere $6.80!