Author: Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #1
Release Date: April 2007
Source: Personal copy
Buy it: Amazon | BookDepository | Barnes&Noble
The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a fairly typical all-girls school—that is, if every school teaches advanced martial arts in PE, chemistry always consists of the latest in chemical warfare, and everyone breaks CIA codes for extra credit in computer class. So in truth, while the Gallagher Academy might say it's a school for geniuses what they really mean is spies. But what happens when a Gallagher Girl falls for a boy who doesn't have a code name?Review:
Cammie Morgan may be fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (three of which involve a piece of uncooked spaghetti), but the Gallagher Academy hasn't prepared her for what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, and track him through a mall without him ever being the wiser, but can she have a regular relationship with a regular boy who can never know the truth about her? Cammie may be an elite spy in training, but in her sophomore year, she's doing something riskier than ever—she's falling in love.
I vividly recall fourteen-year-old me getting trés excited when she happened across this book in K-Mart all those years ago. She was all: "Dad! Holy crapola, spies! Dad! Spies! I'm buying this, kthanks." Charming, isn't she? Charming and so, so naïve. Had Carter decided to aim this series at an older audience and consequently complicated the plot and tone, with overall improvement, I think she could've really had something. Alas, people were content in this book's mediocrity.
The Gallagher Academy For Exceptional Young Women is a boarding school that teaches advanced language skills and correct conduct, but also general espionage skills. The protagonist of Gallagher #1 (Because ITYILYBTIHTKY is still too long!) is Cammie Morgan, a banal and perfect specimen right off the bat, fluent in fourteen languages and able to kill an assailant in seven different ways which give her impeccable credentials. Can you see where this is going? I could. I still can. Cammie's problem is that she's fallen for an ordinary boy who knows nothing of her double life.
If Gallagher #1 had had used its title ironically and taken itself seriously, it could have potentially been absolutely breathtaking. Do you hear me? BREATHTAKING. Carter should've set it in the English countryside or somewhere that paid homage to classic spy film and TV, with a deadset serious protagonist name (Cammie? Christ, really?). Being second-generation, as she is, makes her sound as if her family is pompous. Sorry, but it does. Had she been called Barbara or Winifred and then been known as Babs or Freddie or by her surname as true spies are in fiction (You don't see Fleming calling Bond "Jimmy"), this protagonist could've juxtaposed dated family beliefs and spy customs with the modern-day technological focus and the different threats that are posed in the espionage industry with current events (ie: terrorists, organ harvesters, uprisings in North Africa). It seemed like Gallagher #1 community.
Now, Carter needs a crash course in show don't tell, her discrepancies unforgivable given her genre. You are writing about spies for the love of God! She should also know that the premise will attract certain readers, ones with expectations and understanding of spies and the complexity and intrigue associated with that. Therefore: do not repeat things several thousand times for us to get the point. Guess what? We got it. The first time.
Furthermore, I felt like like Carter might as well have put an <"insert action scene here"> and then continued on. This feels very snarky and particularly rantish, but I must: If you are going to write a book that has a premise which promises action, then you have to deliver kick-ass action scenes! It's a given. Okay, okay, I know there's another way out of that. You know, the Thomas Crown, the clever twist, the salmon smacking them in the face because they were looking at the herring. Right?
I went into this with all these expectations and ideas of how clever and awesome it was going to be because I actually have so many spy books and movies on my shelves, and then Carter really didn't deliver. She obviously has said no to my Thomas Crown. Beside her superfluous one liners and stilted jokes, her lack of attention to the genre and its features has made the book far below sub-par.
The characters. The secondary cast were forgettable, and I can barely recall their names even now. The love interest, Josh? He was underdeveloped and his normalcy made him an empty shell that had no life beyond his little affair with Cammie and the stark contrast between banal and ZOMGspy! Carter's focus shouldn't have been on the ZOMG, like, love at first sight! but on developing a first love slowly and, more importantly, what it meant for her spy career.
Cammie Morgan should not have been the main character. She wasn't near intelligent enough to attend a school as prestigious as Gallagher was described, and she hadn't the sort of focus and priorities that a character as "impeccable" as described would have. This Godsend of a security school? So, yeah, if Cammie can fool the adults with her shenanigans which, no joke, I could pull off on a whim, then our hopes and dreams with the future of global espionage is doomed. DOOMED, I say!
I'll end this with a question: what drives a book? Conflict. Yes. Stakes. Danger. Did Gallagher #1 have any of those to offer on such a degree that it carried the story forward? No, not really.
This has been a post.
If you've read the book, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below. I love hearing what people thought of the books, even if they do disagree with me!
Until next time: Happy reading!