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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

My older tweens devoured this book, but I couldn’t muster as much enthusiasm. I thought it was like a CD of a good song that had one too many scratches to fully enjoy.

The essential story: Ananka wakes up one day to find a hole opened up across the street from her New York apartment. Exploring, she discovers the hole appears to lead to more tunnels and rooms.

After the police end her exploration, she discovers a book that indicates a Shadow City exists beneath the actual City of New York. She also encounters a mysterious girl, Kiki. She follows her, and eventually gets sucked into Kiki's plan to explore the Shadow City, which she has discovered as well.

Kiki recruits Girl Scouts who quickly become ex-Girl Scouts as they pool their special talents and steal into an office, gain a map of NYC underground, learn to pick locks, set explosives, and create a rat-repellant device, all in order to tackle the underground city.

They explore, map, and hunt for treasure before the plots turns when Kiki looks to be on a mission with a different purpose.

It’s apropos that the title is “Shadow City” in that the book has an inclination to the darker side. The book, “Gotham City,” that Ananka finds which tells her about the Shadow City is dark with descriptions of the criminals that populated its dank interior. The girls at Ananka's boarding school are horrid; words like but-, cra-and hel- are used as casually as the girls break laws to pursue their goals. My least favorite, “Oh my Go…” unsurprisingly makes its appearance. When 2 of the girls engaged in spying, note young twin girls fighting at home, they casually observe the evil capability of the one who tries to strangle the other, who literally turns blue, while the parents ignore the fight.

In the end, Kiki turns out to be a character with good intentions. After getting the background on her life story, you can understand why she might aspire to be “dangerous,” a goal she mentions early in the book. The “dangerous” description is telling, though. There is a consistent subterranean, shall we say, theme of the whinier side of modern feminism. Characters complain that magazines won’t make fishing waders in girl sizes, girls tend to blend in because they are ignored, and “many people will say anything in front of a girl – as if she couldn’t possibly understand.” So, no wonder one chapter is titled, ”Sugar and Spice and not very nice.” I don’t care for the underlying message. I’m sure the author and I would disagree about how the oppression of women in modern-day America manifests itself. And we definitely disagree about the cure: to embrace being “dangerous,” butt-kicking, law-breaking ex-Girl Scouts.

Other cringe-worthy aspects: Ananka watches, not just movies, but R-rated ones while her oblivious (and consistently disengaged) parents sleep. A character refers to people who believe good stories come with a moral as “dimwits.” Oh, and Ananka is interested in the illustrated book, “A Man’s Body.” Let’s just say, it wasn’t a necessary tidbit to know in order to enjoy the story. Ananka runs into a library pervert whom she handles with remarkable and amusing aplomb, but it’s yet another dark note.

It is geared to mid-tweens; I'd stick to older if at all.



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