Second Look: ALSO KNOWN AS by Robin Benway

*Also Known As will be released on February 26, 2013

Also Known AsThe Story: Maggie has been picking locks since she was old enough to hold them. She was born into a family of spies, all of whom are apart of a top secret group called the Collective. At 16, Maggie is finally getting an assignment of her very own: go to high school. The target? Jesse Oliver, or more specifically his father, who may publish a story that could potentially expose the Collective and everyone in it. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, is to assimilate into a New York City private school and befriend Jesse Oliver to gain access to his father’s computer, emails, and files. Piece of cake for a 16-year-old, right? Not exactly. (If only Jesse Oliver wasn’t so cute!) Maggie excels at being a spy, but trying to integrate herself into high school AND get her job done? That’s a different story.

The Low Down: Robin Benway brings it yet again. The woman couldn’t write a bad book if she tried. After my thorough enjoyment of Audrey, Wait! and The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June, I had high hopes and expectations for Also Known As, and homegirl doesn’t disappoint.

I thought Maggie was adorable. She’s a perfect example of a determined high schooler who thinks she can do anything, along with that typical naivety that comes along with being a teenager, especially one who’s never been in an actual school setting before. Jesse is a doll (though a little too sugary sweet for my taste), and Roux, Maggie’s first real friend, is a former Mean Girl who has fallen from grace in the high school social scene. Despite Roux’s faults, she’s easy to love and is a true friend to Maggie. Unlike most YA novels, Maggie’s parents are often present, as is another family friend and mentor, Angelo. They serve as positive influences to help advise and guide Maggie in the world of spy-dom.

Benway does a great job highlighting Maggie’s difficult task of trying to separate her job from her desire to be a normal teenager. The trouble starts when Roux becomes an actual friend, and Jesse becomes a very real love interest, not a mark. Maggie has to wonder if maybe being a normal teenager is what she really wants. Given that most teenagers aren’t satisfied with being “normal” and want to be more extraordinary, Maggie tells us the other side of that story.

I must give a brief disclaimer, however. Ally Carter set the bar pretty darn high when it comes to spy novels, and I think I’ve been spoiled by the awesomeness that is the Gallagher Girls series. As I was reading Also Known As, I kept thinking to myself, “that’s weird, this doesn’t sound like Ally Carter’s writing…” And then had to slap myself in the forehead when I realized DUH, that’s probably because it’s NOT Ally Carter. Clearly, I’ve been trained to believe that the only person who can write a good spy novel is AllyCar. But ‘tis not so.  Readers can’t read this novel with the preconceived notion that it’s going to be like Gallagher Girls. It’s not. Once you understand that (which took me a solid three chapters to do), it’s an incredibly fun read.

The Bottom Line: Benway’s third novel is both smart and hilarious. You have to go into it understanding that it’s not going to be like an Ally Carter novel. But once you do, Benway writes a good, solid story that is very entertaining, not to mention laugh-out-loud hilarious. An easy, well-paced, enjoyable read that would be perfect for young and/or reluctant readers.


Like this? Then you might also like…

  • The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter – Similar to Also Known As, you’ll get even more laugh-out-loud spy madness. It’s important to start with book 1 of the series (I’d Tell You I’d Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You), as the books build on each other. Read AtLP’s review of book 5 here, and then eagerly await the release of book 6 with the rest of us, which has yet to be titled but is anticipated sometime in 2013.
  • Any other book by Robin BenwayAudrey, Wait! (about a girl whose ex-boyfriend writes a hit song inspired by their breakup) and The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June (a story of three sisters with extrasensory abilities) are both amusing romps with a perfect balance of both humor and depth.
  • CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore – The CHERUB series is about teenagers 17 and under specially trained to be international spies. These are definitely considered action/suspense novels than comedy/teen girl drama. While girls can enjoy these, they are geared towards male readers, which is nice for dudes who might not want to read about teenage girls using espionage gear and a mascara wand to spy on crushes. Start with book 1, The Recruit.
  • Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz – Similar to CHERUB, this series starts with Stormbreaker and follows 14-year old Alex Rider as he becomes a spy for M16, a government intelligence agency. It’s action packed and a good read for reluctant readers.

I received my copy of Also Known As by Robin Benway as a digital eGalley from NetGalley. I was not given any form of payment or endorsement for my review, including alcohol or cupcakes, nor was I kidnapped and held at gunpoint.


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