Author: Kirsten Miller
Reading Level: 5th-7th
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Edition: Hardcover, 2006
The concept is so intriguing: a shadow city 70 feet underground of Manhattan, with entrances from a cemetery, a bank vault, a Chinatown counterfeit factory, etc., and a group of super-girls who each possesses a singular special talent: a master disguiser, an expert researcher, a mad chemist, a skilled mechanics, a talented forger, and Kiki Striker, the enigmatic mastermind. Their goal to save New York City is lofty and Kiki Strike’s hidden agenda is not as sinister as one is led to believe. And, yet, and yet… I could not thoroughly enjoy this book. Actually, I felt a bad taste at the back of my throat throughout the reading of this otherwise ingenious novel.
Kiki Strike made me realize that I partially read for characters. I enjoy a good, intriguing plot with lots of twists and surprises the next eager reader. However, all the clever plot twists, the inventiveness, and the suspenseful mood could not make me forget, or forgive, the cattiness of each of the members of the Bank Street Irregulars (as the six-girl squad is so named.) Their relentless sarcasm and taunts toward each other, even when done in good humor, have the underlining nastiness that cannot be wiped clean from my mind; the author also opted to insert cynical commentaries and gratuitous violent scenes whenever possible (the walk-on characters of grade-school aged sisters seen in their home garden strangling each other until both turn blue over a petty matter, for example.) After a while, the initial sense of witticism gives way to depressing negativity.
Ah. I absolutely sound too harsh. After all, I did find the book charming in its quirky, outlandish, and even informative (lots of New York City historical oddities and other useful tips, such as how to put on a successful disguise and how to tell if someone is telling a lie) way. I guarantee its success with many young readers, especially somewhat brainy 5th and 6th graders who aspire to become spies or super-heroines!