Saturday, June 4

CHERUB: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore

Spies are among us, and they might now be who you think.  In the midst of World War II British intelligence created a whole new intelligence operation: CHERUB.  CHERUB has one extremely important qualification: you must be 17 years of age, or younger.  They reason that adults would never suspect children of being spies, so if they train the children well enough, they will can gather information which adults would find decidedly harder to discover.

James Choke wasn’t really your typical pre-teen.  He’s smart, but also a troublemaker, having strong potential to get in fights with other students.  His mother heads a ring of shoplifters, so even though she never does the actual work she pulls in quite a bit of money.  This means James also has unlimited access to the newest gadgets: his room is stuffed with them.  Along with his little sister, he leads a fairly happy life…until his ex-stepdad (father to James’ sister) shows back up, trying to weasel money from James’ mom.  She ends up accidentally overdosing on medication and alcohol and dies. 

James is sent to a children’s home and his sister ends up with James’ stepdad.  At the home James falls in with the wrong crowd and starts down a path that will quickly lead to jail time.  Before that that come true though, he catches the eye of CHERUB.  James has much of what they look for, above average intelligence, young, and parentless.  They take him on as their newest recruit.

The Recruit seems primarily aimed at boys ages 10-13, and seems like it would be appealing to fans of the Alex Rider and The 39 clues (note: I have not read these series, I’m basing my assumption on what I’ve heard about them).  James owns the coolest toys, and as part of Cherub training gets to learn some different forms of martial arts.

Do I think a 12 year old boy would like it?  Maybe.  To some, James will be a super cool hero who gets to go on exciting missions.  However, even though it came out in 2004 in already feels dated.  There are references to technology from the early 2000’s that many teenage boys would roll their eyes at.  Celebrities are referenced who would barely make a blip on the radar.  It serves as a good testament as to why writers should avoid, as much as possible, referencing specific brands/names of celebrities, as those quickly date the novel (unless those directly affect the storyline, which isn’t the case here).

There’s also a lot of time before James starts his first mission.  Since this is the first book in the series, a large part of the story sets up how he came to be recruited and covers his training.  Parts of this are interesting, but it means the actual mission isn’t as deep/detailed as the later books are sure to be.

As an adult, there are some elements which worried me as well.  Several characters smoke, and many drink alcohol (including James who gets drunk at a party at CHERUB).  Now, I normally don’t mind if a character drinks alcohol.  I also don’t mind if a character is an alcoholic/drunk if it is needed for their characters.  What I don’t appreciate is that the drinking in this novel is performed by underage children (some as young as 11/12) and is presented lightly, almost as a cool thing to do.  Also, some of it occurs at the CHERUB facility.  An older girl mentions they could get in trouble for letting James drink because of he’s so much younger, but the indication is that CHERUB doesn’t care if the older kids drink (even though they are still underage (even though the novel is set in Britain, where my quick research indicates the drinking age is lower than the US).

For me, Muchamore tried too hard to make James a cool kid.  Besides an anger problem, which doesn’t play a huge role for much of the book, he doesn’t have many other deep flaws.  This makes me wonder how much room there is for James to grow as character.  He reads, at the beginning, too much like the kid who has everything, which isn’t a character that is usually interesting, especially since he doesn’t really end up losing everything as he still has a cool life with CHERUB.

One of the things I did like is that spy element felt more realistic than other stories involving teen spies.  They don’t have outrageously unbelievable technology, and they don’t go scaling walls and driving expensive cars.  The missions they go on (from what I could tell) sound much more realistic.

I think the story has some potential, and given the numerous sequels, it seems to have been at least mildly popular.  Given my overall disappointed in this book, however, I don’t plan on trying the sequels.  What will make them more effective though, is if they add more depth to James’ character and are able to create extremely realistic missions that challenge the characters.

2/5 stars

No comments:

Post a Comment