The Squad: Perfect Cover and Killer Spirit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
While I’m a sucker for teen spy/secret agent books, I recently came to the (slightly worrying) realization that I’ve only actually liked the British ones with male protagonists. I’ve never understood what the fuss was with Ally Carter’s two books, was meh on the Spy Goddess series, and really disliked Model Spy. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Squad books. As much as I liked Golden, I didn’t particularly care for her other two books, Tattoo and Platinum. Plus, there was the female teen spy thing. Luckily, the female teen spy thing only applies to the aforementioned books because Perfect Cover and Killer Spirit were pure fun to read. They’re what I wanted the other books to be.
Toby Klein is a combat boot-wearing antisocial computer hacker. Definitely not cheerleader material, right? But she finds a note in her locker inviting her to meet with the Bayport High Cheerleading Squad. At first she thinks it’s a joke, but then she finds another note, and both seem to be encoded with a secret message. Curious, she goes to the meeting.
After joining the Squad, Toby discovers that Bayport High’s cheerleaders do more than just cheer. They also do undercover work for the government. Because who would suspect cheerleaders of being anything but peppy and popular? The more time Toby spends with her new squadmates, the more she discovers they are perfectly suited for their dual roles. But as competently as she may hack for the Squad, the rest of her transformation is a lot more difficult. She may now be a cheerleader, but her personality hasn’t changed. She doesn’t want the makeover and new wardrobe forced upon her, her annoying younger brother was already lusting after the other cheerleaders and is even worse now, and (of course) there’s a hot guy who would be perfect boyfriend material if he wasn’t potentially a bad guy.
At the risk of overusing the word, these books were just plain fun. They’re entertaining, kept me reading, and I had a good time reading them. Jennifer Lynn Barnes takes the idea of cheerleader-spies and runs with it, making the scenario plausible (as plausible as the idea of spy boarding schools, at any rate) and keeping the tone self-aware enough to include lines like, “‘Hello, girls,’ the voice said. I had an incredible urge to respond with ‘Good morning, Charlie,’ but somehow, given the sudden seriousness that had settled over my teammates, I doubted anyone would appreciate the reference.” Toby’s brother is hilarious, even if she doesn’t think so, and her squadmates are individuals with their own personalities and interesting backstories of their own. Well, maybe except for Bubbles.
I’m definitely recommending this one to teens, as well as to anyone looking for a fun spy story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Or just a fun, fast-paced book, period.