Toby Klein, a sophomore computer hacking genius, gets drafted to the cheerleading squad against her wishes. Once accepted, she learns that their high school squad is actually full of super geniuses and an official branch of the CIA. Their first mission is to retrieve compromised CIA data concerning overseas operatives and take down the law firm responsible.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I found it because I find Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s friendship with Ally Carter—and the writing encouragement and antics they share with Twitterverse—to be amusing. Since I became a very quick fan of Carter’s, it seemed only fair to give Barnes a shot as well. I did not dislike the book, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
I had hoped this novel would be something like Man of the House (the Tommy Lee Jones movie, not the Jonathan Taylor Thomas movie) meets D.E.B.S., minus the Lesbian plotline, plus a little Gallagher Girls thrown in to make it more YA-friendly. This was what I wanted the book to be.
It was, to a degree, but then it wasn’t. All of these stories I’ve listed are about maintaining an outer stereotype when something else is going on underneath. The Squad just didn’t break the stereotypes enough. Okay, so the cheerleaders are spies. That’s been done. The cheerleaders are actually super geniuses. Also been done. Some of these cheerleaders are off the charts, one who graduated too young to attend high school and came back to do high school simply to be a cheerleader. There’s also the bitchy cheerleader who—well, still is a bitch. These characters either stayed too close to their stereotypes or they went so far out there that they aren’t believable. This made it very hard to identify with any of them, or feel for them. When two of the operatives are in trouble overseas, there is no emotional reaction; I felt no worry or concern at all for those characters, and truly didn’t care.
Their mission felt much the same way. The names and locations of CIA operatives is a big deal, but I felt like we were never pulled into the urgency of what was happening. They did their missions, and they went off without a hitch. One operation went to be Plan C, but it was a perfectly orchestrated Plan C.
Toby, our PoV character, is also problematic. The girl who doesn’t want to be a cheerleader but is turned into the popular girl overnight, and still rejects it. This is nothing new, and it didn’t have to be. But it wasn’t until the last 40 pages of the book that she started to actually get in the game, get into the operations, and stop griping about pink, purple, and sparkles. That transition should’ve happened sooner. We would’ve liked her better.
Overall, this isn’t a bad book. However, it had a much higher potential than it reached, that would’ve been easily met with less stereotypical characters and enough interest from our PoV character to care. That said, just like many silly Bond films are made watchable by the gadgets Q gives 007, here the gadgetry and creativity keeps the book afloat.