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Khanh the Killjoy

Fantastically sweet and hilarious

Also Known As - Robin Benway
I sat back in my chair and sighed. “I have to seduce someone,” I announced to my parents. “High school is already destroying my moral code and I haven’t even set foot on the campus yet.”

My mom peeked at my dossier. “I think ‘befriend’ is the word you’re looking for,” she said after a minute.

Sometimes she’s no fun.

This book was a fucking blast. Every other page had me giggling. I can't even remember the last time I gave anything a 5. This book is about a female sleuth. You might be expecting Nancy Drew, and you'd be so fucking wrong. The main character is more female Johnny English than Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew is far too sophisticated and far too reliant on deus ex machina. This book is about a fiercely competent spy who finds herself a fish out of water...and into high school. Hell might be more easy to crack.

The main character is not perfect, the premise and execution of this book is incredibly convincing, despite the premise of a teenaged spy. This is due to the fact that the main character feels so real, and her errors are due to not incompetence, but a lack of experience in an arena she's never been through before. High school is terrifying. I'm sure we can all relate.

Why did I love this book so much?

- An awesome spy/safe-cracker who is fiercely competent at what she does until she meets her biggest challenge yet...HIGH SCHOOL. She is hilariously believable, sweetly bumbling, and completely convincing.

- No insta-love, not an overwhelming amount of romance, and one of the most likeable, sweetest, funniest love interest I've ever encountered in an YA novel.

- An awesome female best friend who is the most likeable 17-year old drunk I have ever met. This friend is a cheater, and there is absolutely no slut shaming here.

- Fucking fantastic parents: spies who are just twiddling their thumbs bored out of their minds while waiting for their daughter to finish her "job." They're about to learn what it's like to be parents to a high school student...who actually goes to high school. HA!

- Angelo: "He always gives good advice, too, especially about safecracking and lock picking. It’s like if Tim Gunn and James Bond had a baby, and that baby was Yoda. Angelo’s response? “Who’s Yoda?”

The Summary:

“I get to go to high school?” I said. “No more homeschooling? Do I … do I finally get an assignment?”
“Holy crap!” I said. “Hallelujah, it’s a miracle! I finally get to do something besides watch everyone else have fun!” I raised my bagel in the air like an award, then pretended to wipe away tears. “This just means so much to me! I’d like to thank all the little people that I crushed on my way to the top.”

Maggie is the 16-year old daughter of spies. Her parents work for an organization called "The Collective," which does a lot of cool shit behind the scenes that us normal mortals don't know about.

Tobacco executives on trial because of damning evidence? Human smuggling rings being broken up? The fall of that Peruvian dictator? That’s us.

She's a safecracker, a lock breaker, and she is damned good at her job. Except being the daughter of spies who are constantly moving from place to place is pretty fucking boring. She's hardly attended school, she sometimes accompany her parents to different jobs, and she has no friends. She has imaginary conversations with cute boys, but that's pretty much it. Her life is boring.

I even managed to mortify myself by having a long-running and completely one-sided “How you doin’?” imaginary conversation with Cute Boy.
Where’d we move from? Oh, nowhere you’d know. So what do you do around here for fun?
Ice cream? Yeah, I love ice cream. With you? Of course! No, my parents are totally cool with me dating.
See? Pathetic.

Maggie is ready for a change. And she gets it! Halle-fucking-lujah! Her assignment: Jesse Oliver. Son of Armand Oliver, a magazine editor. A magazine editor who's about to blow the lid on The Collective.

“So you get in through Jesse,” my dad said to me. “This one’s on you, kiddo.”

Hooray! Go to high school, get close to Jesse Oliver (who, from a background search, seems to be kind of a loser).

“He’s a delinquent!” I yelled out to my parents. “He was arrested for shoplifting last year!”
No response.
“I just want you to know that I’m going to be hanging out with someone who has a criminal record!” I cried.
“Let’s not forget that our family can never reenter Luxembourg without being arrested!” my dad yelled back.
Touché.

Get into Oliver daddy's safe, steal the information. BOOM. Easy, right?

Not exactly.

After my first week of high school, I was ready for it to be over.

It turns out that The Collective are fucking idiots. How the fuck is Maggie supposed to infiltrate the high school social structure in the middle of the fucking quarter? She's the new girl! She's never been enrolled in school for long! She has no idea what to do!

The Collective should have enrolled me on the first day, not three weeks into the semester. What were they even thinking? I didn’t know who made up the Collective, but clearly, there wasn’t a teenage girl among them.

To top it off, it's a big fucking school. It's not easy to get close to Jesse Oliver. She hasn't even fucking SEEN Jesse Oliver. She's made a possible friend/spy...

I was sure I knew her! Maybe she was a spy, too. Maybe the Collective had two of us infiltrating the system. That would be a first, but hey, it wasn’t any crazier than enrolling me in geometry.

But where the fuck is Jesse Oliver?! Maggie's so fed up with this shit, so she calls mommy to complain...

“Sorry,” I said immediately. “Look, I can do this. I can do this better than anyone because I am a spy, okay? I am a great spy and—and something is licking me.”
There was a definite wetness on my calf and I glanced down to see a huge, shaggy golden retriever pushing his nose against my leg, then giving me a big doggie grin. I had seen this dog somewhere before, and I looked from the dog to his leash to his very cute owner.
Oh, no, I suddenly realized, my heartbeat flying into overdrive. Oh no, oh no, oh no.
“So,” Jesse Oliver said, “what’s this about being a great spy?”

Well, fuck. Luckily, Jesse Oliver, like most normal people, thinks she's joking. After all, who in their right mind would believe a 16-year old girl is a spy?!

And as it turned out, Jesse's not a bad kid. He's actually kind of nice. Despite the fact that he eats all the cherries out of their pint of shared Cherry Garcia ice cream. I mean, this is the kind of teenaged boy who doesn't flinch when a girl makes a joke about marriage over a cherry-flavored Ring Pop!

“Are we sworn now?” he said, his eyes crinkled at the corners.
“Yes,” I said, and tugged on his finger for good measure. “It’s also possible that we’re now considered married in the country of New Guinea.”
We both cracked up at the same time. “Kidding!” I giggled. “Kidding! At least I think I am. Who knows?”
“Let’s Wikipedia that when we get home,” Jesse suggested.

Well, crap. This mission is going to be harder than she thinks, not least because it's KIND of hard to get into his penthouse and sneak around and find a safe and crack it...it's pretty much like finding a needle in a haystack to bring down daddy Oliver.

Along the way, Maggie finds that she actually likes being a normal teenager.

Somewhere in the deep, shameful part of my heart, I knew that I wouldn’t always be friends with Roux, or even together with Jesse. It wasn’t in the job description, and I had watched my own parents pack up and move so many times that I had lost track. None of this was a surprise.
But that was before I had made friends.

Her parents find out what it's like to be parents to a high schooler for the first time.

I entered the code to our front door and opened it carefully. My parents were probably sleeping and I didn’t want to—
“Where have you been?”
Both my mom and my dad were standing in the kitchen, arms folded, staring at me. I hadn’t seen them look that angry since … well, ever.
“Oh, hi,” I said. “I can explain.”

And can Maggie bear to leave this new, wonderful life behind when the mission is finished?

“But how can you expect me to make a choice about my life, my future, when I know only one option? All I know is this job. Yeah, I’m good at safecracking, but what if I’m better at being a normal person? What if it makes me happier?”

The Parents:

“It’s two thirty in the morning!” my mom cried. “In Manhattan! Do you know all the things that could have happened to you?”
I looked at my parents like they were speaking Korean. (And to be fair, my dad can speak Korean, so it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.)

OH MY GOD, WE HAVE ACTUAL PARENTS? And they are all sorts of adorable. We have computer hacker mom...

She’s an amazing computer hacker, which I think sort of rankles my dad. He’s useless when it comes to electronics. One time, we were in Boston and they got into this huge fight because my dad thought my mom was taking too long to do her job. She just handed him the TiVo remote and said, “Tell me how this works.” And of course he couldn’t, so she was all, “Don’t tell me how to do my job,” and believe me, he doesn’t anymore.

To linguist dad. They are cool parents, but they weren't really normal parents, because they were spies first. And really, Maggie's never been a problem. Hell, she tags along safecracking with them on their jobs. So they were parents, but they never did the parenting thing until Maggie goes to school.

And damn, they freak out. All of a sudden, their little safecracking darling is STAYING OUT PAST CURFEW and DATING BOYS and MAKING FRIENDS and HAVING SLEEPOVER and I mean WHAT KIND OF HIGH SCHOOL GIRL DOES THAT ANYWAY?.

Oh. Well, crap. So Maggie's parents are learning to be parents for the first time, just as Maggie is learning to be a high schooler for the first time. And it is such an awesome learning experience. For me, that is.

Maggie:

Make nicey-nice with Jesse Oliver? Check! Get into his house so I can scope out his father’s office and see what his safe situation was? Check, check! Foil Dad Oliver’s plan, save the world, and be promoted to head spy of all time? CHECK, CHECK, AND CHECK!

AHAHAHAHA. I have to admit that Maggie might come off as immature to some, but to me, she is so endearing. She has the right amount of self-consciousness and immaturity that I totally love. She is so good at what she does (being "beige" and safecracking), but normal things like making friends and going to school is something so completely new for her and she's completely cowardly.

“Right back atcha,” I said, taking my class schedule and sauntering out.
Bring it, Harper School.
The Harper School definitely brought it.
By the time lunch rolled around, I felt like I was ready to retire.

She is not incompetent, she's just not used to this whole situation. Maggie has never had friends outside of the suited (and awesome) 50-something Angelo. She doesn't have girlfriends. She's never dated. She doesn't know how to flirt. She doesn't know anything but blending in (because spies don't stand out).

She is so teenager at times, but she sees her own faults.

You know how sometimes you realize you’re doing or saying the wrong thing, but you just can’t stop yourself? You can literally hear the words coming out of your mouth and you just want to shove them back in because the real you, the good you, would never want to be this way, but you just keep going?
Yeah. That was me. Because instead of agreeing to try harder, be better, I got whiny.

This book did such a great job of highlighting Maggie's insecurities, with just the right amount of humor.

The Romance:

“Look,” I said. “I like you. Like, like like you. Like, a lot.”
“That’s a lot of ‘likes.’”
“Yes, it is.” Angelo was right about the West Coast ruining my grammar. “But don’t you feel like it’s happening kind of fast? Shouldn’t we just slow down a little?”

Jesse Oliver made it onto my book boyfriend list. He's just fucking adorable. Initially, he seems like a douche. He shoplifted, he has stupid pictures on his profile.

Even Jesse Oliver’s photo page was banal. Hanging out with friends in one shoot, giving the finger in another, hugging a golden retriever in the third.

But as it turned out, it's just a facade. I usually hate poor-little-rich-boy tropes, but Jesse is so likeable that I completely forgive him.

“It’s like, I have all this luck and wealth and privilege, but who gives a shit? People expect me to be some spoiled brat, so then I act like some spoiled brat—I mean, I stole that book, what a dumbass—but it’s not me at all. And then when I try to act like an upright citizen, volunteer and all that, they accuse me of using my dad’s connections to get ahead. But if I don’t do anything, then my dad gets pissed that I’m not doing anything."

The thing with Jesse is that he is such a sweetheart. He never, EVER acts like a jerk to Maggie. He has a sense of humor. He never flinches. His only fault is that he trusts and falls for her too easily (although it's not insta-love).

Their romance was so seriously sweet. I feel like I'm swimming in a vat of dark chocolate and getting giddy on a sugar high.

“Maggie.” He got up and came over to stand next to me, taking my hand in his. “Would you like to go on a date with me?”
At that point, I would have run away to Zimbabwe and raised herds of elephants with him.
“Yes,” I admitted. “Do you want to go on a date with me?”
“Are you kidding? I’m going to show you how it’s done. I’m going to date you like you’ve never been dated before. We’re talking fireworks, okay? Literal fireworks. None of this ‘let’s eat ice cream in the freezing cold while we sit on a dirty stoop’ shit. I’m pulling out all the stops. Call me LL Cool Jess.””

Jesse is not smooth. He's the biggest dork in the whole world, as you can tell from that quote above, and I absolutely adore him for it.

Overall: a fantastically fun book. Even better than Prep School Confidential.