March 19, 2015
Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale
Playing with Fire
by Bruce Hale
I’m a huge spy movie/novel fan so getting me to pick this one up was pretty easy. It doesn’t hurt that it is written by Bruce Hale. His sense of humor is tops and always keeps me laughing. Yes, his target audience is the middle grade boy and that tells you all you need to know about what I find funny.
The book opens with Max Segredo standing on the lawn as fire trucks try to put out the fire. His latest foster home has just gone up in flames. Yes, his file claims he’s a pyro but he didn’t start the fire. Not that that keeps anyone from blaming him.
Bouncing from one bad foster situation to another is a drag but its better than juvenile hall. When his case worker picks him up, Max hopes juvie won’t be his next destination. At least that’s what he hopes until they pull up in front of the grim, uninviting facade of the Merry Sunshine Orphanage. Doors with multiple locks. Security systems and an armed welcoming committee. Max isn’t sure what he’s gotten into but he’s sure he needs to find a way out.
Max isn’t sure what is up at the orphanage. Classes are far from normal. Instead of reading or math, he has lock picking, surveillance and code breaking. In code breaking, he deciphers the note someone has placed in his bag. YOUR FATHER IS ALIVE. Max may not be an orphan after all.
The action in this book is nonstop as Max and the other kids learn the skills they will need to become top-notch spies. The toughest part isn’t lock picking or scaling walls but figuring out who is on your side. Is it true that there are no good guys or bad guys but simply shades of grey? Max ultimately has to decide just how important his friends are and how much he can forgive.
The themes in this book (loyalty and family) run deep but the story itself is fast-paced and full of irreverent humor. With a host of characters, this book will appeal to a variety of readers. It is listed for grades 3 to 7. Younger readers won’t be put off by the hint of romance but these is “onscreen” violence and one death. That said, it is not graphic or gory. It is a fast read but has enough sub-plots and twists and turns to occupy a more advanced reader.
This is book one in a new series — School for S.P.I.E.S. Fortunately book #2 is already out and I have it on request at the library.