Author: Robin Benway
Genre: young-adult, mystery
Pages: 320 (ARC edition)
Published: expected February 26 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
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.
Reviewed by Danielle.
Margaret [Redacted], AKA Maggie Silver, AKA Peggy, Maisie, Molly, Margie, or Meg. Suspect has a long history of espionage, dating back thirteen years. She is believed to be a member of the Collective, working as the safecracker on a team of two or three other intelligence agents. These team members are believed to be her immediate family. Suspect should not be considered armed or dangerous, but is believed to be exceptionally emotionally volatile.
Maggie learned to pick locks when she was three. Being born to a hacker and...what is her dad’s speciality? (Actually, the first chapter makes her parents seem AWESOME. Orphans who met during the fall of communism in Moscow and became spies together? Spin-off, please.) Anyway, being born to two spies means she was never destined for a normal childhood. Maggie is cracking bad guys’ safes in Luxembourg and Bosnia before her baby teeth fall out. Her family and the Collective are good spies, only gathering information and stolen good to take down baddies. They fly around on private jets, collecting evidence of human trafficking rings and art forgery, living in the shadows, but now a newspaper has information on the group and is threatening to name names.
Maggie is assigned her first solo mission. Enter private school, befriend Jesse Oliver, son of the newspaper magnate, and use him to gain access to Papa Oliver’s files. This turns out to be far harder than expected, because (shock!) high school really, really blows. Maggie befriends the drunken former mean-girl Roux as her ONLY teenage acquaintance, severely limiting her social standing and causing her to have to bail on missions to drag her alcoholic ass home. Fortunately, she does manage to end up in Jesse’s presence. Unfortunately she happens to be shouting into a cell phone at the time that she’s really a good spy, really! Congratulations Maggie, you've blown decades of covers in two seconds because you can’t use code words or wait until you get home to complain to your mom that she’s being totes unfair.
Luckily, Jesse is dumb as a box of rocks and accepts the lie that she was talking to Roux about their Halloween party. That she tries to convince Roux to throw as her alibi. And Roux says no. And that’s not weird to Jesse, because he’s throwing a Halloween party himself and now the girls get to go! Before they leave, Maggie’s assigned her family friend and forger, Angelo, as her tail. She throws a complete shit-fit because grown-ups don’t need back-up, mooooooom!
Now seems like a good point to stop and say all of the “spies” in this book are just terrible. Maggie, despite having 13 years experience, is whiny, petulant, unsubtle, and entirely too trusting of her new friend and boyfriend. Her parents, who would have 22 years of experience and just spent months establishing and infiltrating an Icelandic human trafficking ring, lose their minds that the job isn't done in one day. They nag incessantly, refuse to trust Maggie for a single second, and blame her for their bad intel. Again, Maggie's no saint, but enforcing a curfew on a working spy and almost blowing her cover because you just HAD to go to parent-teacher conferences? I was starting to wonder if they were trying to sabotage her mission.
Angelo is the only one who does anything remotely spy-y for the whole book, and is also the only one who seems to remember Maggie is a trained agent, which of course means he's fooled by fake intel and disappears before the climax. Despite training, Maggie's spy work never moves beyond Harriet the. That works when taking a MasterLock tm off a fence to impress a boy, but to go into the big baddy's hideout with a diamond tipped drill but no lock picks? Sydney Bristow she is not.
In the end, Also Known As isn't much of a spy novel. It's a fish-out-of-water story with a tepid romance, funny sidekick, and a mystery that barely starts until the third act, just in time for Maggie to find her unique voice, rebel to show her parents she's trustworthy, and get the boy. It's an average representation of high school with some completely ludicrous details, fine to good side characters, and wit. That it doesn't take itself too seriously is Also Known As's greatest strength. Still, it's more Goldmember than Goldfinger.