Fifteen-year-old Cammie Morgan is a student at The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a private, all-girls boarding school located in Roseville, Virginia. Beneath its typical, prep school facade, Gallagher Academy prides itself in training young women to become employable, internationally acclaimed spies. Wishing to follow in her parents' footsteps by becoming a respectable, well-known spy, Cammie dedicates herself to her studies. That is, until she meets the charming Joshua Abrams, turning her entire world upside down. Forced to choose between her forbidden boyfriend, lifelong friends, and a promising career, Cammie finds herself overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn.
When I initially picked up this book, I was searching for a quick, easy read, preferably with a bit of romance. At the time, I didn't realize exactly how fast of a read this would be. At only 284 pages, I blew through the book over the course of 2 days. I easily could have read it in one if I had been more intrigued by the storyline. The easy vocabulary, simple plot, and abnormally large font lend this book to a fifth or sixth grade audience. To say the least, I'm not a huge fan of middle school literature; I never was and I never will be. I found both the plot and the characters to be significantly watered down. The author went into explicit detail regarding every
event, setting, and character. Additionally, this book fit the stereotypical mold of most novels involving a boarding school, particularly with regard to the characters and plot. Having ten years of all-girls, Catholic school under my belt, I can testify that very few of these stereotypes are actually true. I would have liked to see a more accurate portrayal of the environment at a private school. Consequently, the lack of originality significantly colored my views on the book.
Cammie served as the first-person narrator for the duration of the book. She had quite a sense of humor, which I appreciated. However, without hearing the text read aloud, it was challenging to distinguish between sarcastic and genuine comments. I frequently found myself rereading entire pages to determine which made more sense in a particular scenario. Also, Cammie appears to have forgotten to introduce readers to the staff and provide a description of the classes at Gallagher Academy. And no, Gallagher Academy is not offering Algebra or Physics. Instead, there are brief mentions of Covert Operations, Culture and Assimilation, and Research and Development. Cammie has the benefit of attending Gallagher Academy for several years prior to the start of the book. Readers, on the other hand, don't have that advantage and are left blindly guessing as to which character is which.
My main grip is the characterization, or lack thereof. Instead of gradually introducing traits and characteristics through a character's words and actions, Carter states them outright when a character first makes an appearance. This severely limits a reader's ability to use his/her imagination. Additionally, this method of characterization makes it challenging for readers to recall which character embodied which traits. On a similar note, the characters were poorly developed. They had a tendency to overreact when faced with minor provocations. On more than one occasion, situations were blown way out of proportion, making the characters appear superficial and unrelatable.
I'm slightly conflicted regarding the plot. While it was clearly intended for a younger audience, I found the general storyline cute, serving as a refreshing break from the complex, twisted books that I've been reading recently. The plot also served, however, as one of the most disappointing components of the book. Almost immediately, I noticed numerous similarities between the Gallagher Girls series and the Harry Potter series, identifying countless parallels between the two. First and foremost, Gallagher Academy and Hogwarts can be categorized as "special" boarding schools which are only open to a select few. Both authors created a secret world that remained hidden from the public eye. More specifically, one of the main teachers at Gallagher Academy arrives at the Welcome Feast late; Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire pulls a similar stunt. The similarities don't stop there, including the slew of unique courses and eccentric characters. For example, Cammie's best friend Liz is a spitting image of Hermonie; both are bookworms and constantly strive for academic perfection.
Overall, the accommodations made for a younger audience, the unrealistic characters, and the large number of similarities to the Harry Potter series significantly detracted from the book. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to move past these, hence my two star rating. Quite frankly, I don't understand why this series is so popular; I didn't find the plot, characters, or writing style to be exceptional, nor did I find it particularly entertaining. I didn't have high expectations for this book, despite the excellent reviews that I had read, so I wasn't exceedingly disappointed. While I will not be reading the remaining books in the series, I may read the Heist Society books at some point in the future.