Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
Publication: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books (May 30, 2006), Hardcover, 387 pages / ISBN 1582349606
Genre: Action, Adventure, YA/Teen
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Read: August 2009
In one sentence: It’s the Babysitters Club with bite.
This is the first time in several months that I’ve written a review for a book I’ve JUST finished, and I’m doing it now because the book I read? Is. so. AWESOME!
Summary from Amazon (slightly edited for spoilers):
White-haired, leprechaun-size Kiki Strike is a new student at Atalanta School in New York City when she meets 12-year-old Ananka Fishbein, the narrator of Miller’s debut novel. Together they begin a detailed exploration of the Shadow City, the subterranean rooms and streets under New York’s subway system, and Kiki recruits a team of other precocious 12-year-olds, whose skills include hacking, chemistry, lock picking, forging, making handmade explosives, and mechanical engineering, to join them. Ananka, the team’s urban archaeologist, will supply her family’s extensive library and learn everything about rats, the current Shadow City inhabitants. As the girls try to obtain layered maps of New York City’s infrastructure, they fear that terrorists with the same goals are putting the city in terrible danger.
To keep my review from simply being filled with gushing enthusiasm (and capslock), I’ve made a list of what I loved best about Inside the Shadow City:
1. The characters. Strong female characters who aren’t defined by their relationships with men (well, they’re 12/14, so there isn’t a lot there anyway), who don’t back down when adults tell them to, and who can take of themselves and put plans into action that would make Alex Rider hesitate. Yay!
2. The plot. It’s a little bumpy, but it’s so interesting. Spies? Princesses on the run? Secret underground cities?! This is the stuff action movies are made of, and it’s all made better by the fact that 12-year-old girls are a part of it.
3. The fact that it shows girls can do absolutely anything, even if no-one thinks they can. Even if they’re young, short, and being threatened by assassins! Even if they don’t think they can do it themselves– the girls in Inside the Shadow City are in charge of their own lives, and it makes for an awesomely empowering story.
4. Mixed up with the chapters are practical how-to guides and notes about interesting things related to the story, and if I was still 12 I’d totally be out doing everything in this book. Heck, I was a copy of Harriet the Spy for about four years after I read the book, and Inside the Shadow City has even more exciting stuff in it than just writing down observations in a notebook. Urban exploration! How to escape kidnappers! How to tail people! Famous underground cities that actually exist! I feel like putting together an exploration kit right now and carrying it around with me, and I’m 21!
Basically, take The Daring Book for Girls, turn it up to 11, and you have Inside the Shadow City. Honestly, I haven’t felt this good about being female since the Spice Girls first showed up. It makes me so happy that someone wrote a book where, typically, male leads would be running around and instead she made them all female. SO HAPPY. (Now if only someone would write a traditional young-kid-gets-old-wizard-master-and-is-secretly-the-queen or something. Queen Arthur, people. Yes.)
And, yeah, it’s a little unbelievable that 12/14-year-olds would be whizzes at, say, making explosives, but I honestly don’t really care. It’s fiction, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and I totally want to be a 12-year-old in New York City so I can run around looking for hidden houses and dodging giant rats. It works in books with 14-year-old (male) spies, why not here, too?
Anyone and everyone should read Inside the Shadow City, especially if that anyone is young and female. Heck, even young males would probably like this book, since it’s filled with action and decidedly light on the more mushy stuff. Adults should have just as much fun with it as non-adults will– as long as they don’t get hung up on the “OMG young kids running around on their own” stuff.
Just try it out. (You won’t regret it!)