Super Spy Summer Reading for Teens
If you want to make sure your teens are keeping up with their reading, here are five super-spy themed series that will leave them shaken and stirred.
Summer is often a tough time for parents, as kids and teens can be off school for two months or more. Unfortunately, most parents with jobs don’t enjoy that same benefit – and it’s a challenge to balance fun family activities with keeping the house in order. Throw in the pressure of making sure kids stay on top of their schooling and a lot of parents are practically at the breaking point!
One great way to make sure kids keep up with their reading is to introduce them to a book series they simply can’t put down. Recent young adult sagas like The Hunger Games, the Twilight saga and the Divergent trilogy have kept kids addicted to reading – and there are plenty more equally addictive series to explore.
One popular genre of young adult books is espionage fiction – think James Bond and Jack Ryan, except for a younger audience. It’s an especially appropriate genre for teenage boys to dip into, as they can often be the toughest to get hooked on a fiction series. There’s something exciting about the promise of spy adventures – getting plucked out of the regular day-to-day and thrust into a fast-paced race for survival, relying on gadgets and guts to save the day.
Five espionage series really stand out when it comes to young adult spy novels, and if you’re looking to keep your kid reading, these might be just the thing to hand them with the promise of: “For Your Eyes Only.”
The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson
If you’re going to look into books for teenagers ‘like James Bond’ you might as well go straight to the source – in this case, the seminal series of ‘Young Bond’ novels by British author Charlie Higson.
A lot of Bond fans were utterly bemused when Higson was tipped as the man to write a series of James Bond books focusing on the secret agent during his teenage years – especially since Higson was best known as a supporting comedian on the BBC comedy sketch show The Fast Show. However, Higson’s passion for James Bond became evident the moment the first book in the series – Silverfin – was released; and they’ve been fan favorites ever since.
Higson sets his books during the 1930s, which is series appropriate for James Bond as he appeared in Ian Fleming’s original novels. Some leeway has been granted to veer from the ‘official’ biography (for example, in Ian Fleming’s books Bond was expelled from famous British boarding school Eton, but in a Harry Potter-esque nod, the Young Bond series remain set at that venerable institution almost all the way through.
It is worth noting that some teens are a little wary of the period setting – they prefer the thrill of contemporary spy adventures. Other criticisms focused on the fact that James Bond is just 13 when he’s introduced to the series; and traditional YA wisdom cites that lead characters should always be a little older than their readers. However, for kids and teens who can get past those points, these books are a thrilling ride and also serve as a brilliant introduction to one of the most seminal literary characters of the 20th century.
The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
For teens who want a more contemporary teen spy, the popular Alex Rider series might be a great place to start.
Anthony Horowitz is sometimes described as “the busiest writer in England” and the litany of novels and screenplays to his name is certainly evidence of that. He’s most famous for the Alex Rider series, which follows the adventures of a teenage orphan recruited by the British secret service when his uncle Ian – a James Bond-esque superspy – is murdered under mysterious circumstances.
A lot of people are most familiar with Alex Rider from the 2006 movie based on the first novel in the series, Stormbreaker. That movie failed to launch the anticipated series, but the books have continued to be popular and the 11th, Never Say Die, was released recently.
The Alex Rider series does exactly what the Young Bond series doesn’t – it embraces the over-the-top villains, crazy gadgets and wild hyperbole; and along with the contemporary setting makes for a series that teens and boys in particular are sure to enjoy. It’s a little hokey and hackneyed – but then again, so are the James Bond movies and I’ve been continuing to buy tickets to see them every time a new one is released.
CHERUB Series by Robert Muchamore
Very much in the same mold as Alex Rider comes the CHERUB series, by British author Robert Muchamore.
A contemporary series, it follows the adventures of teenager James; who is recruited to the super-secret spy organization CHERUB and faced with tackling some of the toughest espionage assignments in the world.
Muchamore deliberately makes choices to distance himself from other spy adventures – for example, forgoing the weapons and gadgets of the Alex Rider series – but they still end up following the mold that attracts kids and teens to the genre in the first place. The style of writing really stands out – and these are books that even the most reticent reader can plough through in a day. As a father of boys, I’d suggest this as the best series to introduce to a new reader – and with 12 books in the series it should be enough to keep them going to most of the summer and beyond.
The Agent 21 Series by Chris Ryan
They have a saying in America – “go big, or go home.” That’s the philosophy of the Agent 21 series, by British author Chris Ryan.
No, Chris Ryan isn’t Jack’s lesser-known younger brother – but he might as well be. A very famous personality in the UK, this former SAS officer (played by Sean Bean in the TV show about his capture in Iraq, in one of the rare examples of a role in which Sean Bean survives) Ryan dived into young adult fiction when he penned the first in his series about teenage superspy Zak Darke – and if that name sounds kind of cheesy, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
That being said, a lot of young readers will love how Chris Ryan does the exact opposite of Charlie Higson and Robert Muchamore and throws every cheesy cliche he can into his novels. Zak Darke’s adventures are over-the-top, fast-paced and deliciously formulaic – exactly like the best of the worst James Bond movies. A lot of young readers call them ‘Harry Potter for spies’ and Chris Ryan even goes so far as to have one of Zak’s aliases be ‘Harry Gold’ as a nod to the iconic wizardry series.
They’re popular books – and the nice thing about them is that Chris Ryan’s life is pretty much even more exciting than that of his fictional creation, and a lot of teens graduate from the Agent 21 series to read Ryan’s other fiction and non-fiction books.
The Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter
Traditionally, the spy genre has been a boy’s club – but not any more, thanks to Ally Carter.
New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter introduced the spy genre to a wider audience in 2009 with the publication of I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You – the first in a series focused on the young women of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women; a spy academy for quietly capable girls with lethal skills.
Ally seamlessly blends the best of the spy genre – a covert academy, gadgets and guns, and secret CIA identities – with young adult romance, following the adventures of brilliant new recruit Cammie Morgan as she navigates a new school year at an academy for the progeny of CIA operatives.
Critics accuse the series of being a little campy – but that’s hardly out of keeping with the spy genre in general. Fans, though, cite Carter’s addictive prose and thrilling storytelling as a reason for the series’ ongoing success; and if you’ve got a daughter you want to get hooked on super secret spy adventures, this might be a better bet than the more boy-centric suggestions we listed earlier.