OMG. These books are my life.
I’ve read the first four books probably six or seven times. I’ve read the fifth one three times. I’ve read the sixth one twice. (The number of times I’ve read them has to do with the time span between each book being published.)
Seriously words cannot describe how much I love these books. But I’ll try.
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover, Only the Good Spy Young, Out of Sight, Out of Time, United We Spy
I know what you’re thinking: They look cheesy. Like, Domino’s pizza cheesy.
That’s what I thought. They kept coming up the Scholastic book orders that they send home in elementary school. Based on their middle grade covers (which I am now IN LOVE WITH) and the infamously cliche blurb in the book order, I scorned them, lumping them in with the rest of the cheap, badly written, underdeveloped stories promoted in the pamphlets.
My mom bought me the first one as a gag gift, part of a massive pile of books she got for me the Christmas of fourth grade (I think…might have been 5th). I laughed at her. But I decided to try it.
Probably one of the best decisions of my life. Not a hyperbole.
These books…are made great by a lot of things:
1) GORGEOUS CHARACTERIZATION
I fell for the characters in this book. The group of girls (and the occasional boy) are lovable, imperfect, strong, dynamic, loyal–perfect, basically. You know when a book has a tight group of characters, and you love them together, and you don’t just want them to survive, you need them to stay together? That’s Cammie, Bex, Lix, and Macey.
2) ROMANCE AS A PLOT BUILDER, NOT DRIVER
Sure, the first book’s plot revolves around a guy (Josh). It’s hard to make a case that romance doesn’t drive the first book. But the lessons Cammie learns from Josh push her way past him in the rest of the series. As the story progresses, romance drops to the back of the plot. It’s still there (and sooooooooooo cute and perfect and–can you tell I like these books a bit?). But Ally Carter let her series revolve around her girl characters and their growth as individuals. Romance is a mechanism working in the background, love interests showing up to add reveals and tension and trust issues (mostly trust issues). They look like ChickLit. But they aren’t. They are so much more. I didn’t want to read cheesy spy books about girls being idiots over guys.
Guess what? These books weren’t that.
3) ONLY A LITTLE CHEESE
I thought the books would be cheesy. And I was mostly wrong, but a little bit right.
There are some ridiculous moments. There are some hyperbolic elements, that some people would associate with the middle grade age range. Frankly, these are a lot of what I love about the books. They’re funny and light-hearted. They’re popcorn books, which is why I read them basically every finals season. They de-stress me.
But for every random outburst that could make the books slip back into the cursed middle grade ChickLIt (yeah I really don’t like most of what this genre has to offer), there is a moment that pulls it back. The plots of the later books actually get pretty dark, so even though certain scenes always make me laugh, the series can’t be thrown in with the rest of the fluffy, empty books of the Scholastic book orders.
4) AUTHOR GROWTH
Ally Carter’s first published books were adult romance. I haven’t read them, but I’m sure they’re good.
So when she went to write for a younger audience, she sort of…over-corrected. The first book is pretty chessy. It’s romance based. It’s middle grade. I understand why it was in the book order. But the characterization is there. Looking at it with the rest of the series, it’s a giant exposition, a foundation for the later plot points.
The second book is more mature. The plot is darker. Less cheese, more subtle romance, stronger characters.
As the series progresses, you can feel Carter growing. She gets more comfortable with her cast of characters and the world she’s built. The plots get more intense, while still retaining the humor and some of the ridiculousness from the earlier books. The connections between the characters grow and are tested. By the time the series ends, it is solidly YA–and it makes you weep. But…spoilers.
It’s gorgeous. Seriously. Usually, when authors do something like this, (make their series shift tonally in the middle), they do it badly. See James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. But Ally Carter managed to balance discovering herself as a YA author and staying true to the heart of her works. The Gallagher Girl books all fit together. They are a series. But they are also a testament to the power of an author that learns as they write.
Try them out. Don’t let a cover and a corny title scare you off. Learn to love the things you scorned.
I don’t care if you’re ten or sixty. These books are worth reading. They’ll make you smile. They’ll make you cry. They’ll stick with you.
(Also check out Ally Carter’s Heist Society series. They are equally awesome.)