Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller.
The Plot: Ananka relates how she first met the legendary Kiki Strike six years before, when they were both twelve. She followed the mysterious vigilante Kiki and helped recruit the four other Irregulars, uniquely talented Girl Scouts: DeeDee, scientific genius; Oona, expert forger; Betty, master of disguises; and Luz, inventor. Kiki is the leader; and Ananka is research girl. Their mission: to explore and map the mysterious New York City "Shadow City", an underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels and escape hatches.
But the girls realize that Kiki isn't being honest with them, and when the exploration goes tragically wrong, Kiki disappears, the FBI shows up, and the Irregulars drift apart.
Two years later, strange robberies take place that only could be done with unique knowledge of the Shadow City. It has to be Kiki Strike; the girls band together one more time, to solve the crimes and find Kiki. But maybe Kiki will find them first . . .
The Good: 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. It's Harriet the Spy meets James Bond; you think Alex Rider is something? Well, imagine if Alex put together his own super spy organization.
Have you ever watched a movie with spies or a crime caper, where the team has been working together for years and they are skilled, capable, with chemistry and one liners? And have you ever wondered how the team got together? If so, KS:ITSC is for you. It has adventure, history, mystery, and humor. It's a girl power book, but I also think your Alex Rider and Artemis Fowle fans will love it. It also celebrates brainy, nerdy, loner girls; and while I love Nick & Norah as much as the next girl, I know that I would never, ever be cool enough for them; I wouldn't be hanging out with them at any NYC clubs. The Irregulars, tho? They're my people. We'd have cafe au lait together.
Ananka is relating her past, so it's a bit of tough reporter with a hint of fondness , as an 18 year old looks back on her youth. She's worldly wise now, but not so much then, and it works perfectly. So while the book is about girls aged 12 to 14, it also has the sophistication of an older teen voice. Some examples: "Until the age of twelve, I led what most people would consider an unexceptional life. My activities on an average day could be boiled down to a flavorless mush; I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed. Though I'm certain I didn't realize it at the time, I must have been terribly bored."
And Kiki. Let's just say, I want a Kiki Strike T-shirt and I want it now. One of the many joys of this book is that it is absolutely believable that a 12 year old 7th grader could assemble a crackerjack team of other 12 year olds. She is intelligent, mysterious, driven, talented, and sometimes cranky and demanding.
I also love the time frame in this book; in addition to the whole book being a flash back told by 18 year old Ananka, it's also a story that takes four years to unfold. Four years! Why? Because teams don't just happen. Good plans aren't made in twenty four hours. It takes weeks and months, and this book allows that to happen.
Between the Irregulars and the bad guys, Miller juggles a big cast of characters and does it well. The girls are a mix of ethnicities and income levels and families, which sometimes causes tensions.
Almost every chapter ends with helpful spy / detective tips from Ananka. "Until now, [my] diaries have sat undisturbed on my bedroom shelves, cleverly disguised as Harlequin romances." Tips include How to Take Advantage of Being a Girl; How to Catch A Lie; How to Prepare for Adventure.
I mentioned history; KS:ITSC takes place in New York City, and many of the places mentioned are real. I so want to take a Kiki Strike City Tour now! It's one of hidden houses, cemeteries, castles, inns and cafes and streets were murders took place not so long ago.
While this book stands alone, there is room for sequels. I cannot wait to jump on the Vespa and join Kiki and the Irregulars in a new round of adventures. This book is for teens; but I would recommend it to younger readers and also to adults. It's going on my best books list!
More quotes I adored:
"The good news is, with the right attitude and attention to detail, you can become whatever you want."
"If by now you're a little confused, don't be too hard on yourself. Life is confusing, and anyone who claims that she has all the answers has probably uncovered the wrong ones."
"I decide that the real lesson to be learned from fairy tales is that things are rarely what they seem."
Edited to add: My mother grew up on West 106th street, which is where DeeDee lives. And the website for Kiki Strike has a lot more than just Ananka's blog.
Links: Ananka's Blog. Not surprisingly, when I took the "what Irregular are you" quiz, I was Ananka.
You love to read and write. Friends may call you "bookish," but you prefer the term "well informed." While you're not the most vocal member of your circle of friends, you can step up and be a leader when you need to be. What you lack in organizational skills, you make up for in brains and determination. You're a curious individual with a good head on her shoulders."
Edited to fix a mistake with a name. Darn you, spellcheck!