restricted access Codename Zero by Chris Rylander (review)
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Reviewed by
Rylander, Chris. Codename Zero. Walden Pond/HarperCollins, 2014. [368p]. Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-212008-3 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-212010-6 $9.99 Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-7.

Carson Fender is just doing what he does best—pulling off an epic middle-school prank—when a black-suited man desperately thrusts a package into his hands, directs him to deliver it unopened to Mr. Jensen, and is then abducted by two pasty-faced men in a dark SUV. The first problem is that there are two Mr. Jensens on staff at Eric Hill Middle School; the second problem is that Carson can’t resist opening the package, which contains a device that launches a countdown to its own self-destruction. The game is afoot, and Carson is promptly drawn into a top secret, extra-governmental, world-saving organization that’s taking on a raft of bad guys working behind the scenes at a traveling carnival. This seriocomic action story struggles to amalgamate several subgenres—spy parody (both Mr. Jensens are with The Agency), friendship story (schoolmate Olek, in the witness protection program, turns into a true pal), and thriller (threatened lives and battered bodies twist lightweight comedy into real peril), making the overall tone of this series opener somewhat chaotic. Moreover, even readers who easily suspend disbelief will find the Fender family’s apparent obliviousness to Carson’s leg cast and bandages [End Page 375] (results of the big climax) hard to swallow. The central premise of a middle-school populated by undercover agents is a promising one, though, and kids who like to settle into a series will be happy to know there’s more to come.

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