Also Known As by Robin Benway [ website | twitter ]
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: spies, high school, New York, mystery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: Maggie might be a pro at cracking locks all over the world, but the one thing she is not prepared for when she gets her new assignment is HIGH SCHOOL with kids her actual age. Shifting from life in Iceland to NYC’s Soho neighborhood, Maggie is on her own to get the dirt on the father of one of her classmates — a man who is threatening to uncover the identities of the Collective, including spies like Maggie and her parents. But the one thing Maggie is not prepared for is just how cute and charming her newest target is…
I’m not usually into sweeping generalizations so early in the year, but here’s one for ya: so far, 2013 has totally knocked my socks off with surprise hits.
Also Known As easily slides in this category. It’s not like I didn’t have a hunch this would happen since Audrey Wait! was so much fun and I loved Robin’s letter in the Dear Teen Me anthology… but I had no idea I would love love it.
In a book about a family of spies, I didn’t know what to expect. Mayhem? Fluff? Sure, those are all there. In fact, Maggie’s family sort of reminded me of The Incredibles, a super supportive family where every person had their own specific skill. In this case, Maggie was a safecracker, her dad was adept at stats/languages, and her mom was the ultimate hacker.
But Benway brought more comedy to this story than I expected.
Because imagine being savvy to all these major cases and living all over the world and then being forced to go to high school. It’s hilarious because Maggie seems pretty mature due to the responsibilities of her occupation but when it comes to the everyday kid things… cell phones, best friends, dating, fashion? She is totally clueless, and this parallel between her double lives just really made the book for me.
Then there’s setting. New York City? Awesome. Supporting characters. SO good. Roux, the social outcast who befriends Maggie. Her parents aren’t around a lot, she’s lost all of her friends, and she has this sort of outrageous personality that was so addicting. Then there is Angelo, a family friend and Maggie’s mentor, who is so warm, adorable, and reminds me of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality for some reason. (Okay, this book was so cinematic to me because I think Rebel Wilson would make a kick-ass Roux.) Both of these characters had such a supreme effect on Maggie because she’s supposed to go into the whole assignment as a professional and not make friends. But despite her responsibility to the Collection, she IS 16 and she desperately wants a normal life.
And what can I say about Jesse Oliver? It’s no great twist in literature that Maggie falls for ” the enemy” but I did really like him, and I liked seeing this character fall for someone for the first time, and all the awesome firsts (and doubts) that come along with that. Again, there’s this added layer that she is indeed lying to both Roux and Jesse, probably the first friends she’s ever made in her life, and I kept wondering how she would eventually handle that. (Also kudos to Benway to giving Jesse some real dimension; liked his sub storyline a lot.)
One thing that surprised me about the book was the pacing, which I found a little slow for a book of this nature. But Maggie’s winning personality kept me going and I found myself having a blast, reading about the many adventures (and mis-adventures) supplied in Also Known As (the cherry on top was an uncovered Dirty Dancing reference) and I’m certainly looking forward to the sequel!