Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nothing Ever Happens Around Here! Codename Zero by Chris Rylander

There I was in the parking lot of my school, minding my own business, when some mysterious dude shows up and hands me an even more mysterious package. Okay, so I wasn't so much minding my own business as I was putting the finishing touches on the fourth biggest prank in Erik Hill Middle School history. But the point was the same--I was busy.

"Hey, kid," the guy said. "Take this."

Suddenly I was holding a package. "What am I supposed to....?"

"Just listen," he said, glancing over both shoulders. "Guard this with your life; the fate of the world depends on it. You must deliver this to Mr. Jensen.Trust no one."

Carson Fender is bored. Nothing ever happens in Minnow (a.k.a., Minott),  North Dakota. Or when it happens, it's the same old thing that always happens, like the annual circus with the same old tired tiger and tilt-a-whirls.

To maintain his joie de vivre, Carson is forced to carry out ever-more elaborate pranks at school, and he's right in the middle of a doozie involving a herd of fainting goats on the lawn in front of the school while his co-conspirators Dillon and Danielle use the distraction to glue down everything on every teacher's desk in the school. And then the dude in the black sunglasses appears in his life.

Now Carson can't even enjoy the chaos engendered by his prank. There's that mysterious package, in plain brown wrapper. He's supposed to deliver it to Mr. Jensen, but which one?  There are two Mr. Jensens at his school. That night Carson can't sleep until he finds out what is inside that package, but then... when he loosens the paper at one end, he triggers a warning that makes him wish yesterday had just been a regular, boring day.


Carson Fender discovers that his weirdo conspiracy nut friend Dillon has been right all along. Things are not what they seem in Minnow, North Dakota. Below the boring surface, literally, underground below their favorite sledding hill, is the world headquarters of The Agency, the mega-spy system from which the CIA, FBI, and NSA take their orders. The two Mr. Jensens are, of course, Agency secret agents. Carson is deputized as Agent Zero, given cool spy gear like night-vision contacts, fog shooters, and small explosive charges disguised as fruit chews, and assigned to protect a Russian twelve-year-old named Olek until his parents can testify against a ring of terrorists on trial at The Hague.

The terrorists who have infiltrated the area know Olek is in hiding in Minnow, but they don't know who he is, so Carson is given the task of making Olek look like an average North Dakota kid, invisible in the crowd of other dark-haired seventh graders. But of course, the plan goes awry, Olek is captured, and Carson finds himself on his own to save his friend ...and the world.

At least, it's not boring.

Chris Rylander's latest Codename Zero (The Codename Conspiracy)(Walden Pond Press, 2014), offers middle readers a witty and game main character who gladly exchanges seventh grade ennui for international espionage, at least until the game gets a bit more deadly than he expected. Plenty of bad-guy spies from central casting, a couple of best buddies who are up for anything, and a Russian kid who does Russky stand-up comedy like a young Sacha Baron Cohen doing Borat make for a funny and fast-moving read in the best Spy Kids tradition. Just the thing for those summertime blahs.

Chris Rylander is also the author of a comic middle-school big operator series, The Fourth Stall. Fans of James Patterson's best selling Rafe Khatchadorian Middle School series will find Rylander's books suits their common comedy core to a T.

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