The premise of this book hooked me the moment I heard it: a mysterious 12-year-old girl recruits other girls, each with remarkable skills (lock picking, forgery, gadget-making, etc.) in order to form a team capable of penetrating the Shadow City, a secret underground city beneath New York City.
The story is narrated from the point of view of Ananka Fishbein, who attends an exclusive private school for girls, which is where she first meets Kiki Strike, an odd girl with white hair who is very tiny for her age. Kiki is fascinating to Ananka, and when she is invited to join the select group of talented girls (recruited by Kiki from various Girl Scout troops across the city), Ananka is most definitely in. But as the girls venture underground into the forgotten city built by mobsters and criminals in bygone years, it becomes evident that Kiki is not telling them her true motive for exploring underground and making a map of the Shadow City. She's up to something else altogether...
There were things I liked about this book: the premise, first of all, is an intriguing one. I love the concept of a team of twelve-year-old girls honing their various skills and exploring a mysterious underground city. The narrator had a lively voice and told the story in an interesting way. Yet somehow I never really managed to connect with any of the characters - I never felt that emotional resonance that made me worry about their fate one way or another. The girls, despite their different areas of expertise, were fairly interchangeable - one of them was grumpy most of the time, but I had difficulty differentiating the others. The plot calls for a hearty suspension of disbelief, but it is entertaining and certainly held my attention. This book reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society (another book where I failed to connect emotionally with the characters but is also hugely popular among young readers), and should definitely appeal to fans of that series.
Books in the Kiki Strike series:
1. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
2. Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (#1 in the Kiki Strike series) by Kirsten Miller (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2006)
Also reviewed at:
Big A Little a: "Kiki Strike is a plot-heavy book in a good way: it's always interesting and keeps you guessing. I didn't know what would happen until the very end."
A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy: "This is a fabulous book; the writing and voice are amazing, the plot is fast moving, intricate, and clever, and the girls are inspiring and likable and unique."
What KT Reads: "I loved that throughout the book you never really knew who to trust and what their motives were."