Thirteen-year-old fosterling Max Segredo knows he’s just one stop away from juvie. Luckily, that stop turns out to be the Merry Sunshine Orphanage, where the third floor is off-limits due to a secret science project, and the house rules include “No unsupervised gunplay.”
Staffed with tough instructors with names like “Styx” and “Stones,” the unusually secure “orphanage” turns out to be a vocational school to train students in “Systematic Protection, Intelligence, and Espionage Services.” Max fits in nicely, until coded messages suggesting that his father, a spy himself, is still alive spark an urgent need to escape. Hale threads the narrative with colorful metaphors and throwaway lines (“But his search was as fruitless as an all-beef buffet”) and festoons it with high- and low-tech tools of spycraft. He ultimately sends his diverse cast of student spies on a field trip/mission that climaxes in a face-off with shadowy LOTUS—a rival organization with the requisite black limos, palatial hidden headquarters, agents who dress like “catalog models for Victoria’s Evil Secret” and even a shark tank. Dorman adds a handful of dramatic full-page scenes, and Hale closes with a note on ciphers. One character’s sudden murder aside, the tone is mostly light, with family issues and conflicting loyalties (driven by troubling revelations about Max’s dad) for added texture.
This lightweight kid-spy romp should find some eager readers. (Adventure. 11-13)