Book one of the Cherub series
By Robert Muchamore
Available now from Simon Pulse (US) and Hodder (UK)
I enjoy stories about child spies, like Alex Rider or the Gallagher Girls or Jimmy Coates. Cherub is a popular series from the United Kingdom, now being re-released with updated covers. I believe THE RECRUIT first came out in 2004, which meant it looked pretty dated. I missed hearing about this series when it first came out, but when the re-release came to my attention, I wanted to give this spy series a shot.
James Adams is heading towards jail. He's got an anger problem, and after his mom dies, he starts hanging out with the wrong kids at the orphanage. It's just small marks on his record now, but he's sure to eventually do something that'll really get him in over his head. But there's no reason to write him off. He has potential. And a secret agency known as CHERUB notices.
CHERUB uses children as spies, because adults so rarely suspect kids. They can enter homes unsuspected, as friends of a mark's children, or pretend to be harmless vandals. It's the perfect opportunity for James.
I liked that THE RECRUIT explored the lives of kids who aren't often protagonists, especially in children's literature. James has lots of rough edges. I also liked that it tackled difficult topics, and didn't reduce complicated issues to black and white stances. After James completes his first mission, he isn't entirely sure that things worked out for the best, since no one involved was entirely good or bad. I didn't enjoy how much time was spent on boot camp. I would've eaten up as a kid, but found it a bit distressing to read about a kid going through something that is hard on adults.
I think that THE RECRUIT could be read by younger readers - nine or so. The language isn't overly difficult, and it's very engaging. However, the subject matter (including terrorism, underage drinking, and drugs) probably bumps up the intended age of the reader. For concerned parents, I think that everything is presented in an age appropriate way and not in a favorable light.
THE RECRUIT was a fun, fast novel, but I don't think I'll keep reading the series. It skews a bit too young for me.