Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz (2001).
NY: Philomel. ISBN: 0-399-23620-1
Well hello, Alex “Baby Bond” Rider. I’ve heard about you for years, mostly from the mouths of young boys who regularly wouldn’t be caught dead in the library, but were caught jonesing for a fix of your spy trickery. I see what the fuss is all about; you have super cool spy gadgets, super stealth intuition, acrobatic skillz, and a knack for finding yourself in sticky situations. You’re also kind of a badass. What’s not to love, if you are a 12 year old boy? Stormbreaker, and I assume the rest of the Alex Rider series, since I stopped here, is a kids eye view of/homage to the campiest of old school James Bond flicks, prior to Daniel Craig broodingly sexpotting it up (mmmmmm).
I’ve got a theory that Alex is actually going to grow up to become 007, but hasn’t quite hit puberty yet, so out go the Bond girls and in come gadgets like zit cream that can burn through metal, and a Gameboy that also functions as a fax machine/x-ray machine/bomb. Horowitz tells Baby Bond’s story in an engaging and high adrenaline way, weaving in cheeky nods to the 007 villain mill by dubbing a mute butler with mouth scars Mr. Grin, throwing in a Russian minx, and including a giant Portuguese Man-o-War in an even more giant tank in the big bad villains office. The chapters are short and sweet, often ending in a cliff hanger, which makes it hard to put this book down. Moreover, Alex is crafty and clever, and he usually chooses to truck on instead of bemoaning his sad sad life, making him a-okay in my book, since so much of YA fiction seems to revel in angst and tragedy.
Stormbreaker begins with an ominous knock on the Rider residence door; as with most midnight knocks, this does not bode well for young Baby Bond. His uncle and sole guardian, Ian Rider, has been killed in a tragic car accident, allegedly because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Baby Bond is instantly suspicious; Uncle Ian was a seatbelt wearing fiend! He does some investigative journalism, only to discover that all is not as it seems: Uncle Ian was straight up murdered, and what’s more, a super secret spy for Her Majesty (not Madonna, the Queen, foo), in MI-6. It turns out that he was killed on a mission, trying to find out what the deal is with the new super computers (the Stormbreaker) that Harry Sayle, crazy Egyptian-English billionare, is donating to schools across the UK. Baby Bond is more or less conscripted into service as MI-6’s new super secret teen spy weapon by his late uncle’s handlers, having to survive boot camp before he is shipped off to finish up where his uncle left off. He assumes the identity of the kid who won the Stormbreaker essay contest and travels to Sayles’ complex to test out the game. Things start out okay, but sooner than later things take a turn for the dangerous, and Baby Bond is fighting to survive AND find out what is up with these super cool Stormbreaker computers. It goes without saying that Baby Bond will have to ATV, scuba dive, scamper, hide, and skydive his way to saving his butt and find out the truth, leaving the reader with well nibbled nails and jonesing for another fix of Alex Rider.
Best for: This series is probably best suited for younger YA readers (Grades 5-8), but definitely could cross over into the Children’s category because there aren’t too many big words, there are short chapters, and the narrative is simple and appealing. An easy sell to reluctant reader boys or girls, for the action and viscereal drama.
The hook: I assume most kids have heard of this because of the movie, but I know from experience there are a good many who have not. And then there are those like me...aka those who just don't make the connection. Good thing we're so good looking. I’d begin by asking some spy related questions, give a brief plot summary, and then read the scene where Alex is trapped his Uncle Ian’s bullet-ridden car in the junkyard car crusher. And there I catch them, hook, line, little stinkers. Or mabye I should just hold up a picture of Daniel Craig. I'd let him convince me, if you know what I mean.