Title: I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You
Author: Ally Carter
Perspective: first person past
Note: SPOILERS Galore as per freaking usual!
OK, I'm a book slut. There, I've admitted it. Are you happy now? What kind of person hangs out in cheap dives looking to pick up young books if not a recidivist book slut like me? At this time in the morning? And using transparently cheap introductions like, "I'd love to get between the covers with you!", or "How would you like to crack this spine, baby?", or "I'm dedicated to you, sweetheart!", or, "Spending all my time with you is a life sentence." Yeah, that last one wasn't so wise. But at least it ended with a period rather than a pregnant pause.
Yes, I'm done with In Mozart's Shadow and now I'm cutting loose with I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You" (I am going to have to acronym-ise that. Is ITYILYBTIHTKY too much?). This one sounded interesting to me because it reminded me of Francine Pascal's Fearless: FBI series, which I'll ramble about elsewhere on this blog at some point. ITYILYBTIHTKY isn't going to work. I'm going with ITYILY, pronounced like ITALY.
Yes, I know it's becoming a cliché how ill-fated my romances are with some books. It's love at first sight and then comes the roller-coaster courtship, the all-too-hasty marriage and the inevitable, bitter divorce. Hopefully it won't be like that with ITYILY, but to be honest, I think I'm already in love.
Seriously how can I not be with a title like that? And there's NO prologue. See what I mean? I'm doomed with this one! The premise is that the Gallagher Girls are students and graduates of a girl's residential school ("all girls, all the time") which specializes in training spies and secret agents, but to the outside world, is just your ordinary girl's school (if there be such a creature), although this one is for geniuses. The students are recruited because of their high IQ and other traits. Yes, it's another iffy young-adult premise, but it's a young-adult novel; it goes with the turf, so get on board or catch the next book out of town.
Our protagonist is Cameron "Cammie the Chameleon" Ann Morgan, who isn't even 16. She has the inevitable two to three close friends, in this case Long Tall Liz Sutton, and the requisite black friend: Rebecca "Bex" Baxter, who is also English (see? I told you I was doomed!). Carter uses Rebecca's nickname as a verb at times, which I find funny, such as in "...and Bex is, well, bexing".
At the welcome back assembly that afternoon, a new teacher shows up, Joe Solomon, who is also English, and hot, according to the general consensus. He specializes in field operations, and the homework he sets them is to notice things!
I have to mention a couple of things, one of which is funny unintentionally, the other impossible. At one point, Carter has her girls "descending down the stairs". Honestly? Have you ever seen anyone descend up the stairs? The only time I've seen that was when I met a man who wasn't there.... It's like when you send an email and someone asks you if your intended recipient has "replied back" yet. Or you talk about 7:00am on a Saturday morning, as Cam does on p106. Or you talk about an ATM machine. As in, "We descended down the stairs at 7am in the morning; because our friend has not replied back yet, we're going to go to the ATM machine...." OK, enough!
The impossible thing before breakfast is when we hear that a Russian was carrying liquid nitrogen in a beach ball under his shirt. No. Never happened. Not even once. Unless the outcome of that episode was that the Russian died horribly.
There's a code red called at the school which merely means that unexpected people have shown up unexpectedly, and Cam and Bex are assigned to give them the school tour. As they prepare to do so, the school switches around rather like the stairs at Hogwarts, hiding the spy/agent stuff and replacing it with uninteresting high school stuff. Most of this is automated, but some people are assigned to walk the floor making sure that nothing revealing is left lying around.
The new arrival is Macey McHenry, the spoiled daughter of a senator and a perfume purveyor (what a nightmare that would be irl!), as Cam and Bex discover in meeting her parents. They escort her through the building. The tour consists of trying to show her what a boring, routine, tedious, spiritless, stale, humdrum place it is, the better to dissuade you with my dear. At that point, I was thinking this is going to fail, and I was right. Macey is not only going to come to the school, she's going to share the three's room. The story this far, has me fully entertained. Carter has a nice way with dialog, and whilst some of the humor falls flat (maybe that's just me), most of it works.
On her first day, Macey meets with Cam's Mom (her father mysteriously disappeared a while ago. Or did he?! He's presumed dead). Also at this meeting is Solomon, along with some random student called Jessica Boden, and the three we know. When Macey gets uppity, even after the school's real purpose has been exposed to her, Solomon tosses a knife right past her head to stick into War and Peace behind her.
Carter intimates that Gallagher girls had been the first to figure out that no two fingerprints are alike, and also that they invented duct tape! That's like Romy and Michelle claiming they invented Post-it™ notes! Fingerprinting has been around since the Chinese Qin Dynasty. Duct tape was invented by Johnson & Johnson during World war 2 for sealing ammunition cases. And no, it wasn't the Gallagher girls who invented Velcro, it wasn't even the US space program! It was a Swede by the name of George de Mistral. Have you ever eaten a swede? They're yummy. You may know it as a rutabaga rather than a swede, but Bex would know what I mean....
A sign over cafeteria announces which (of fourteen) languages is going to be spoken that meal break and everyone tries to comply.
Macey keeps surprising Cam with her behavior. Bex and Macey get into it one lunch break over a mean comment she makes about Liz. They learn that she knows all about the latest fashions when they get a field assignment in place of Joe Solomon's field class, and they go to bizarre extremes in trying to dress for it. Cam's assessment of the situation is: "Four years of training had all come down to this, and I for one did’t have a thing to wear."
They're supposed to tail one of the school's most paranoid teachers - the one who has cosmetic surgery every year to keep his appearance from stagnating - through a carnival, and discover what it is he drinks. Liz, who is backup to Cam can't even tail her; she keeps losing her in the crowd!
Carter loses the reins a little bit on this tailing exercise. Cam's team starts following Smith, who's supposed to be appallingly hard to follow because he's so paranoid. Actually, I'm starting to wonder about him. If there are to be twists in this story, then my money is either on Smith having something weird and unexpected going on, or on Solomon the new hottie teacher.
One of my guesses for Solomon is that he is a double-agent, which would be really hard to understand given the territory he oversees: a high school! This is a YA novel though, so his task could be something really lame! Besides, he would be in an excellent position to expose all of those secret agents who are graduating from the school, wouldn’t he? Perhaps Solomon's position is going to be like the Defence Against the Dark Arts teaching position at Hogwarts: there will be a new occupant of it each new book in the series! Carter already has another three or four titles out or due soon in this Gallagher Girls series, each with an amusing title. She also has other titles.
My other guess is that Solomon has some connection with Cam's mom, and may even be her father after cosmetic surgery! Or maybe Smith is her father?! Why on Earth would I think wild thoughts like that?! Well, I've been keeping things from you. Naughty me! On his initial arrival, Solomon winks at Cam's mom, something Cam notices, and Macey had some rather trenchant remarks about the school during her tour, in one of which she suggests that Solomon is likely some sort of child predator, or that he's having an affair with Cam's mom. Macey, at that point, did’t know that Cam was related to the principal. This may reveal more about Macey than it does about Solomon, but it may be a clue. We'll have to see.
Anyway, the idea of the exercise that evening is to tail Smith unseen and find out what he drinks with his funnel cake. Things go wrong and he catches both Bex and Liz, but he fails to see Cam, who merely waits until he leaves and then retrieves the bottle she sees him toss into the trash. Mission accomplished.
At this point Cam becomes aware of the inevitable guy inevitably noticing her, leading to the inevitably forbidden inevitable relationship!
I took the opportunity to read some other reviews on this book this morning, now that I've begun to read it myself and form my own opinions. Several of those reviews seemed to make a big deal out of this boy being special because he noticed Cam, who is supposed to be unnoticeable since she can blend into her surroundings so easily. That's why she's called the chameleon, but we never learn what she ever really did to earn the appellation.
In the case of this particular exercise, I see nothing special about this guy - named Josh - having noticed her. She is soaked to the skin by getting too close to the dunking game at the carnival. So much for her being unnoticeable! She hastily buys a T-shirt promoting a local sports team to cover her wet-T-shirt look, and she's in the act of retrieving the bottle that Smith tossed into the trash when Josh notices her. Her situation can hardly be described as blending in at that point! I'd say she stands out like a sore thumb.
And what’s with Josh? Why is it that all these heroic-type guys are called Jack in the adult version, and Josh in teen version? Cliché much?!
So Cam ends up in this really lame conversation. All of her four years of training is out the window. She forgets her cover story. She reveals her real name to him. She fails to report the encounter to her superiors. She even fails to report it to her friends until they winkle it out of her. This kind of conduct ought to be grounds for, at best, a reprimand if this school is supposed to be so top notch and actually serious about its training program.
Some reviewers made much of the amusing paradox that Cam is a capable agent, but she hasn't been trained for this. Excuse me?! If she's supposed to blend in, doesn’t that imply an ability to deflect conversation or to bend it to your own advantage? Have none of these girls been trained at all in engaging in conversation and using their cover? Have they never met guys?! Does the school not appreciate even remotely that for girls of this age, cool guys will be a major weakness? This part doesn’t ring true to me, or it speaks to incompetence or weakness in both Cam and the school's program! Does her meeting with 'the guy' have to be of the disabling thunderbolt variety? It would be nice if now and then it did't.
The age range for this novel dipped a bit alarmingly for me as I read of her reaction to this encounter, I'm afraid to say. Actually I'm not since I said it right there. Yes, I accept that it may be how fifteen-year-old girls react to guys they have the hots for, but then what price the term 'special' as used in describing these girls, if they're really no different than your average girl, anywhere?
I'm still on board so far, but I hope this juvenile romantic component doesn’t spoil what had been, up to this point, a really good yarn. It’s still a good yarn, but let’s not let it slip any more! Please! I want to read the whole series if I'm not driven away from it.
Solomon is particularly cruel to Cam when she gets back to the school for debriefing (that is, going over what happened, not losing her briefs…). She gets no credit for achieving their aim. Instead she gets to watch slides (or vid, I can't tell which) of tortured women. For all Cam knows (since they're nowhere to be seen in the classroom), the victims could be Bex and Liz.
She's cruelly lectured about the true price of failure and incompetence on a real mission. This seems to fly in the face of the light tone of the novel so far. The rather extreme reaction of the girls to this would seem to imply that they've had no training whatsoever in preparation capture. Worse, it implies that not a single one of them has ever read a novel, or seen a movie or TV show about spies or secret agents!
Did they never see the James Bond movies? That name is frequently used in this story, and we know there are at least two relatively recent Bond movies (Casino Royale, and before that, Die Another Day) where Bond is tortured. Yet these girls appear never to have given it any thought nor to have been required to do so. As it happens, Bex and Liz are fine, but this seems like an appallingly callous way to redress the fluffiness of her encounter with Josh.
How girls who supposedly have the smarts of the Gallagher girls can draw hasty black and white conclusions based on one very limited encounter is something of a mystery, but the girls decide that either Josh is an enemy agent trying to infiltrate the GGs or he's Cam's soul mate. Really. I am not making this up - Carter is!
They embark upon a thorough investigation of Josh, including hacking all his online stuff including his school records, and they break into his house to scour the place for clues. Of course, Cam runs into Josh who is going to the party they expected him to be at when they planned to break into his home. Cam lamely says she's going to the party, too, since her four years of training once again deserts her but she has to go back to the car because she forgot something, and she promptly disappears. Somehow, hiding behind the car, she can turn the mirror to watch Josh. I'm not exactly sure how that would work since in order to be able to see Josh int he mirror, she'd have to be on the same side of the car as he was, and therefore completely visible to him! It seems that Carter hasn't thought some things through properly. But Cam doesn't vacate the area quite so fast that she misses hearing Josh tell his inquiring friend, "Oh, she's nobody". So nuance-free Cam is now totally crushed, and all they've learned is that Josh's fingerprints aren't in any database.
Their next class with Solomon is an introduction to 'garbology' - what people throw out in their trash can reveal a lot about them. They also become involved in learning to drive, which I find scary. I hope your typical school doesn't do this: without any prior training or instruction whatsoever, without even taking a test about their knowledge of road law and road signs, they're set behind the wheel of a real vehicle out on the public streets and allowed to drive! Virginia actually has some < href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver%27s_education#Virginia" style="color: cyan;">serious rules about this. It's supposed to be funny because Bex is English and keeps driving over onto the wrong side of the road, but it doesn't work that way and it's a bit tedious and uninventive to keep harking back to it.
I can speak from personal experience of this having driven on both sides of the Atlantic (and the car did't even get wet!). If you're driving in traffic, there's no problem with staying on the correct side of the road, since everyone else is, and you'd have to be really unobservant or majorly brain-dead to go over to the wrong side. Once you're driving, it's not a problem because you're in traffic. The only time you might encounter this as a problem is if you park somewhere out in the country where there is no traffic around. When you set off driving again later, you might find yourself, now there are no ready cues, habitually moving over to 'your own side' but even then there's the position of the driving wheel to remind you, so you're soon clued in!
I actually found it hard to believe that a super-secret spy school with all manner of expensive gadgets and hidden technology did't have a computer training system to teach people for their initial instruction, or that they don't have an outdoor course away from public streets where they can learn. I know Carter's novel is somewhat tongue-in cheek, but why take so much time telling us of all the other cool advanced stuff these girls are learning, and then betray that by tossing driving in so haphazardly like it's completely unimportant and has never crossed the tutor's minds before the girls turn 16?! It's another of those things which reminds me that I'm actually reading a novel instead of following some intriguing and fun adventures of some spies in training.
But on this particular driver's ed trip, Bex has apparently navigated onto Josh's street, and Liz has apparently contrived to blow a tire right outside of Josh's house so they can steal his garbage and secrete it in the trunk for a thorough analysis later! That's quite amusing, especially Cam's fantasizing about Josh leaving her notes like he leaves his mom. Her fantasy is along the lines of "Darling, I may have to work late, so I might not be here when you get back. I hope you Had a great time in North Korea and disabled lots of nuclear weapons. With all my love, Josh."
Did you know that yawning will short-circuit a budding sneeze? I just discovered this by accident.
They find a note from someone called DeeDee thanking Josh for the fun they had at the carnival and suggesting they do it again some time. Despite the wording and tone of the note, once again, this is the end of the world for Cam. She All three of them automatically assume that DeeDee is Josh's love-in girlfriend rather than a cousin, aunt, acquaintance, lesbian friend, or something. I used to wish I'd had a daughter along with my sons, but having read this stuff in Carter's book, I'm rather glad I don't have a teenage daughter! Now I don't have to take her to a psychiatrist for treatment for manic depression.
But just as Cam is about to give up Josh's ghost, Bex makes an observation that Josh has a lot of church flyers, and that Cam had told him, at the Carnival. that she was home-schooled for religious reasons. Bex draws the conclusions that Josh is going to church functions because he's looking for Cam. Right then, Macey walks into the room and asks, "So what's his name?" Now that, is much better writing, Ally Carter!
The start of chapter 12 is pretty entertaining, too. Macey asks Cam, given that "it's been two weeks" (which ought to tell the other three something important, but hasn't yet!) if she's got to second base, and Cam's response is, "You think I could get to second base?" Maybe I'll get into a discussion on reducing women to sports metaphors and how wrong it is that both Macey and Cam, themselves young women, have bought into those metaphors to the point where they're actually employing them as an integral part of their own speech, but not now, not here!
Carter has a habit of slipping an hilarious, if totally unrelated, humorous remark into the narrative from time to time, and she tosses in one here and powerfully, too. Apparently Macey had been in the physics lab when Mr Fibs got attacked by the bees he thought he'd genetically modified to obey commands from a whistle, but it turned out that "...they only respond to the voice of James Earl Jones." I have no idea what that's all about but it definitely got my funny bone. If Carter's mind actually works like this, a conversation with her would most definitely be highly entertaining.
It's also funny that the next day, Solomon's text for the day centers on forming alliances, since Macey has proposed an alliance with Cam, in that she will help Cam with her quest for Josh if Cam helps her to get up to speed now she's coming out of the newbie classes and getting into the mainstream spy curriculum. They set up Cam for a date because they discover, through tapping Josh's email, that he's going to be a at a video store. They plan everything and can asks herself, "Is every girl on a date really in deep cover?" I loved that line. It's the kind of line which makes you understand the potential for a novel like this and which makes you desperate for Carter, in that she doesn't drop the ball! Later, Can adds, "All these years, I'd thought being a spy was challenging. Turns out, being a girl is the tricky part." Yes, Carter, I can take more of this kind of writing. Bring it on!
So Can stakes out a bench and waits for hours for Josh to show up. Her notes from the night observe that: It's almost impossible to look pretty and/or seductive if you SERIOUSLY have to go pee." Josh does show up but makes an excuse to leave pretty quickly. This is either suspicious or out of character given that he's supposedly been trying to track her down. He asks for here phone number and she refuses because her phone doubles as a stun gun. She notes that Josh is so sad it was as if she had run over his puppy. Then comes the hilarious part: "(though no actual puppies were harmed in the formation of that metaphor)". See? That's brilliant and only serves to renew my assertion that Carter is probably a riot to talk to. Now I'm really hoping I like this book so I can read the rest of the series.
Now Cam is upset because, even though she told Josh that he can't call or email, she offered to meet at the same place the next night, and he said maybe he'd be there. He is there, and he covers Cam's eyes from behind, in a 'surprise, surprise!' gesture. Bad move. Cam completely overreacts by tossing him over her shoulder onto the ground in a defensive maneuver. She claims she's using his momentum against him, but given that he's merely standing behind her covering her eyes, he has zero momentum! And it's a bit sad that she's so poor at being a spy that she did't notice his arrival. I can see how Carter wants to take a light touch and make their interactions humorous and awkward so that we can see how this badly begun relationship works out, but sometimes I think there have to be better ways of arriving at a given destination than the amateur route the author actually chose to employ!
Anyway, She and Josh have their date and exchange a few confidences (severely limited on Cam's side) and she learns that Josh is not happy with his family's designs on him that he follow his father into the family pharmacy business. She and Josh arrange to leave notes for each other in the gazebo in the town since she's not going to let him have email or telephone access to her. Now Carter has everything up and running, so you and I both know perfectly well that she's going to start messing with it, don't we now? And I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to it.
The passage of time in ITYILY speeds up rather towards the end, just as it does in In Mozart's Shadow. Over several weeks, Cam and Josh exchange notes in the dead-drop gazebo, and they plan on seeing a movie, but when Cam shows up, it turns out that the movie started an hour before and they missed it. Obviously Cam's team has ceased to be suspicious of Josh otherwise they would have known when the movie started. Instead, Cam and Josh go to a burger place, but that enjoyment is cut short when some of Josh's friends show up. Josh leaves early, but at least Cam gets to meet DeeDee and likes her in spite of herself.
Their next date is to a local dance held in a barn, and Cam is having fun until her mom shows up dancing and laughing in the company of Joe Solomon! Cam's team whisks her up to the upper level of the barn and they decide they have to split, but once outside, Can says she can't just leave Josh like this, so the other three depart leaving Cam to try and figure out how to get back in the barn without being seen and exit with Josh in tow. She's saved by, of all people, DeeDee! Cam claims she has a headache and DeeDee offers to relay the message to Josh inside. Cam is now even more fond of her and sees that she, the chameleon, has some things in common with DeeDee, the wallflower. No one notices DeeDee, either, but that's not the way DeeDee wants it.
Cam and Josh dally briefly at the gazebo and Josh gives her a birthday present of silver earrings to match her silver cross. DeeDee helped pick them out. It's not Cam's birthday, but it is is the birthday of her cover. On her return via the secret tunnel, Cam finds another secret tunnel she's never known about, and she follows it to discover that it gives her a view into her mother's own office. Her mother is there already (I guess she unaccountably cut her night short, too), but she's crying and Cam realizes the significance of November 19th. It's not her birthday but it is her father's. Cam spends the night sitting in an empty classroom staring into space.
The next day she enters her mom's office to discover that Mr Solomon and Ms Buckingham are already there. There is a problem: Bex's father has ceased sending messages and may have been captured. Cam's advice is not to tell Bex until they know one way or the other. At least then she will get to have a few more hours of joy in her life before tragedy slams down. Why they take Cam's advice (other than that this is a YA novel) is a mystery. These people are spies who have a psychological profile on Bex and know everything about her, yet they place a higher priority on a fifteen-year-old's knee-jerk opinion than they do on their own intel. This is not a smart move!
Macey immediately intuits that something is wrong when she next sees Cam, and Cam realizes she is not alone. She's been anguishing over this massive heap of secrets on her shoulders (what heap? She has her secret dating and now she's added Bex's potential tragedy, and that's all. And only one of those isn't shared with her team!
So next Cam finds herself downtown on a school trip to a movie (which she's evidently already seen with Josh. I guess more than a few days got skipped). She claims she has a headache (that excuse is beginning to feel seriously over-used!) and heads to the pharmacy, where she plans to spend two hours with Josh, rejoining her movie-bound girls afterwards. No harm, no foul, right? When she gets into the pharmacy, Josh isn't there but as she ducks down behind some adult diapers to hide from one of her classmates, Anna, who comes in to refill her inhaler, someone else comes in. It's Dillon, Josh's friend, and he's accompanied by some guys from his school and they start bullying Anna.
Cam doesn't intervene, trying to maintain her secrecy. Fortunately, she's saved because Macey comes in and backs-up Anna, and she's followed by Bex who does the same. When they leave, Cam discovers that Liz has been watching her through the store window and she has a very disapproving look on her face.
After a cold spell with Liz, things improve, especially since they discover that Bex's dad is fine after all; then the other shoe drops. Josh's friend Dillon is telling him (as Cam's team can see from the email tap they have in place) that he's seen Cam hanging out with the Gallagher girls down town. Josh doesn't believe him. But Cam sets out to intercept them as they're coming (apparently) to scale the walls of the academy. How they plan to make their data mining escapade succeed after that, is a mystery, but Can ends up 'fessing up to Josh. She tells him she's leaving in the morning and just wanted to say goodbye. She pretends her dating of him was just to see if she could get away with it, and she returns the earrings.
Their final exam is a practical which involves Cam being kidnapped by teachers. Right after she broke up with Josh! She's confident that her team will bust her loose. She doesn't expect Josh to come to rescue her. He saw her 'kidnapping' and he comes to her aid, but Cam tells him it's all over; she can't see him any more. She explains the kidnapping away as a school hazing ritual.
She makes a dramatic exit by sliding down a zip-line which Carter foolishly describes as imbuing her with weightlessness. No. If she were weightless, the zip-line wouldn't work. The reason it works is precisely because she's not weightless: gravity is pulling her down. In fact, even in orbit, astronauts aren't weightless; they're actually falling under the pull of gravity, but because their fall precisely matches the curvature of the Earth, they never hit the ground. Any time you're under the influence of gravity or of acceleration (which Einstein showed us are the practically the same thing), you're not weightless.
Carter makes another mistake when she has Cam 'rapeling' down from a warehouse roof through which they've just cut with acid. No, she's not rapeling (nor is she rappelling which is the correct spelling!). One rappels down a cliff face or the side of a building; when you're in the open, which is where Cam evidently is, it's called fast-roping: the kind of thing we're used to seeing when special ops soldiers slide down from a helicopter. It was apparently invented by the Brits during the Falklands war.
But it goes downhill, and right when it seemed to be over, and the girls were captured, Anna manages to get the disk they're after (Yes, disk! Though the USB serial drive was invented in 1999 and available in commercial form since 2000, Carter is still using disks in 2006). But Josh has not given up on Cam. He returns and accidentally disables Solomon, so Cam decides that the only thing to do is to introduce him to her mom. Josh learns all about the school, but in the end he leaves like he's never going to see Cam again. The ending is rather weird, like Carter knew she was going to launch into another volume and didn't care how many loose ends she left in her haste to get down to writing it.
But having said that, I can recommend this. It's very entertaining, and now we've passed the awkward introductions, I hope and feel that it will only improve.
In closing, I must ask: need I remind you of what I said at the start of this review? I returned this novel to the library this afternoon and I know I'm weak, but I couldn't help catting around the shelves to see if the others in this series were there, and yes, yes they were! I had strength enough to restrain myself from inhaling all four. I just got two, which I shall review shortly. This does mean Pride and Prejudice will be postponed, however! Check the What am I reading now? section to see what's on the radar