Review | City Spies #1 by James Ponti

city spies book review

Summary: City Spies #1 by James Ponti

I decided to read City Spies #1 because I saw several rave reviews for City Spies #2 from other readers who had snagged ARCs. I tend to enjoy relationship-based stories, so strictly-mysteries can be tricky for me. Thankfully, this was a fun mix of both relationships and mystery (although definitely more mystery than relationships).

Twelve-year old Sara Martinez is a hacker bouncing from foster home to foster home in Brooklyn, New York. After getting arrested for hacking into the NYC foster care system to expose her foster parents as criminals, she meets a man named Mother who is not a lawyer but convinces her to take on her case. Mother somehow wins and Sara gets released only to join a team of kid spies operating out of a base in Scotland.

The kids get codenames (they’re basically renamed) to match their city of origin. On the team are five kids: a Black boy named Paris, a girl named Sydney, Brooklyn (formerly called Sara), a boy named Rio, and a girl named Kat (for a city in Nepal). As Sara adjusts, the team prepares for their first mission in Paris, France, even as Mother is working hard to find his two kids lost as a consequence of a previous mission.

The Good

I don’t know much about spy life but this was very believable and well-researched. Sara has to get trained for her new life as a spy, including learning to climb a wall about thirty feet high. She also has to find her place on a team where everyone else seems to be more experienced than she is. The chapters alternate between present day and the past, showing readers how Paris and Sydney came to be on the team, and also showing how Mother was betrayed by a fellow M16 (British Intelligence Service) agent and lost track of his kids in the process.

I had fun learning about the other kids’ skills and watching Sara prove her chops to them as well. The scenes in Paris were immersive; I’m always game to travel on the page. Most importantly, though, this book teaches a lot about teamwork and is great for kids who like adventure, while maintaining a strong, realistic plot.

Overall: City Spies #1 by James Ponti

James Ponti’s City Spies #1 is an excellent start to an exciting mystery series that both kids and adults can enjoy. Taking readers from New York to Scotland and Paris, this story makes for an engaging experience. Major props for featuring a racially diverse cast of characters who leap off the page and whose realistic, humorous banter will keep readers turning the pages. If you enjoy middle-grade mysteries with a side of adventure and friendship, you’ll love City Spies #1. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Buy This Book

More Middle-Grade Books with a Touch of Mystery

Have you read this book or any others by James Ponti? This was my first Ponti book, and I get the hype now! Got any middle-grade mysteries you’d like to recommend?

I loved the STEM focus in this book. If you’d like my printable list of 20 more STEM-focused middle-grade books, you can sign up here and it’ll be delivered straight to your inbox.

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