Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review: ALSO KNOWN AS by Robin Benway

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad.

Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs.

Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend.

But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.
I've been picking a lot of pokeable books lately. By pokeable, I mean the type of book that bears further examination once the reading is over. Either I like it but don't know why, like it but am stopped from full-blown love by certain elements, dislike it yet and am stopped from full-blown hate by good elements, or am just plain confused. I poke the book like a cat might a bug, hoping that it will reveal its true nature in turn.

Also Known As was pokeable.

Here's what you need to know about Maggie Silver.

1. Maggie is her real first name (well, it's her chosen nickname for her real name, Margaret), but Silver is not her real last name.

2. Her parents are international spies working for the Collective, a do-gooder spy agency run by a mysterious benefactor intent on righting the world's wrongs. For instance, the story opens after Maggie's family busts a human trafficking ring in Iceland.

3. Maggie is also a spy, sort of. She's never had a real mission all to herself, but she helps her parents as a super-talented safecracker.

4. Maggie is sixteen, but thanks to her parents' work has never been to school (she was homeschooled) or had a best friend or a boyfriend.

5. Maggie knows that part of being a spy is being, as her parents and her Uncle Angelo put it, "beiger than beige." Quiet, bland, and forgettable.

6. In this story, Maggie gets her first real mission (stop a mogul from running a story naming spy names, including those of Maggie and her parents), her first best friend (a high-flying socialite named Roux), and her first boyfriend (Jesse Oliver, who just so happens to be the son of the aforementioned mogul).

Those are facts. Another fact would be that I thoroughly enjoyed being inside Maggie's head.

Ostensibly, the book is about Maggie's mission to save herself, her parents, and the Collective from Armand Oliver's article about the spies among us. To accomplish this mission, her parents move to NYC (Soho, to be precise) so that Maggie can worm her way into the social circle of one Jesse Oliver, Armand Oliver's son. For the first time, Maggie must attend a private school and learn to make friends, while simultaneously using those friends to achieve her goal.

Of course, that's not really what the book is about. If you're looking for an action-packed thrill ride, this is not the book for you. If you're looking for some mind-blowing twist, you won't find it here. You also won't find much time spent in school or with any other teens besides Jesse and Roux.

I admit, I found these shortcomings to be a little annoying. Maggie spent weeks in school, but we aren't allowed much access to her assimilation other than her whining on the first day. I was also hoping for a story that was a little more... spy-centered.

Despite her unique talents, Maggie isn't much of a spy at all. Rather than be "beige," she is incredibly flamboyant in her actions and conversations, as well as her choice of companions. Roux is anything but beige. Maggie also has startlingly loose lips when it comes to her secret identity. And oh my gosh, don't even get me started on the lapses in believability that I had to put up with.

Yet Maggie is the reason I bother to poke. Robin Benway nails the teenage voice. Though initially annoying, Maggie's voice is lively, humorous, dramatic, and altogether authentic. She is the quintessential teenage girl. She's cocky and confused, emotional and far too dramatic, desperate for a friend but loathe to admit it, and she loves her parents even if they do butt heads sometimes. I cackled more than a few times at Maggie's antics, especially one scene where she regales her Uncle Angelo with her troubles.
"I'm so sorry!" I said, tears coming all over again. "I didn't mean to, it just happened! I think I like him, but I'm lying to him and to Roux, too. And now I've been lying to you and my parents! I'm a lying liar who lies!"
That's gold right there.

"I love him, even if we've only known
each other for the lifespan of a mayfly!"
Maggie is fantastic in all her interactions. She plays well off her mark, Jesse, even if their rapidly forming feelings made me sigh heavily. Really, Maggie, I know the world is new and wonderful, but hold off telling a boy you love him, lest you risk becoming the Ariel of spies. Roux is a whole 'nother bag of fabulousness. She's the typical neglected rich kid, fiery and outrageous while hiding a soft underbelly. She and Maggie quickly become zany best friends and kept me laughing the entire story.

What I'm trying to say is that this book definitely has its flaws. In my opinion, Robin Benway is no Ally Carter, at least as it pertains to missions and the like. However, I appreciated - nay, adored - Maggie's vivacious teen spirit and am even holding out hope for a companion novel down the road. So adjust your expectations accordingly and enjoy a really fun book.

Points Added For: Maggie and her unique voice, Roux, the book's humor.

Points Subtracted For: Not making me gasp, making me roll my eyes in places, changing the cover from the one I used to some boring green thing.

Good For Fans Of: Ally Carter's Heist Society and Gallagher Girls series, other Robin Benway books, hilarious hijinks.

Notes For Parents: Some language, mentions of past hookups (nothing graphic), making out, underage drinking, homosexuality (mentioned only).

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley.