18 February 2013
Review: Jimmy Coates 1 - 3 by Joe Craig
First Line: "Jimmy knew what was coming, but he was too late to dodge out of the way."
The Jimmy Coates series is a riveting, action packed series that gets better and better with each book. Not my normal pick of genre, it took me a few chapters to get into Killer but once I got going I couldn't put it down. Whilst I don't have any complaints about Jimmy himself, why I really enjoy this series is the brilliant selection of secondary characters who add the elements that make this series more than just chases and gadgets. Add in enough humour to not make it too dark and something under the surface to make you think and you have a series that more than capably stands up to the natural comparisons with Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore.
Why I read them: Joe did a brilliant visit to my school in October and I read Killer just before his visit, and then the next two this month. Joe has just excitingly announced that the seventh, penultimate, book in the Jimmy Coates series will be published on June 6th. So I'm posting my review of the first three now and the next three nearer to the release of Jimmy Coates: Blackout.
Who I would recommend them to: If you like fast paced action and clever gadgetry on the surface but want it with appealing characters that grow across a series and something to think about as well.
Being completely honest, I only picked Killer up after meeting Joe at a school librarian conference and asking him to visit my school. I'm not generally a big reader of action or thrillers and I never enjoyed the Cherub series as much as I felt I was supposed to so I was a little nervous I wouldn't really like this and it would be super awkward when Joe came into school. Thankfully, that did not happen.
Killer plunges straight into the action when Jimmy's home is raided, his parents taken away and Jimmy is forced to escape into the night after realising his body can do some pretty intense stuff under pressure. It took me a few chapters to get invested in the story but once the initial chase was resolved, and we started to find out more about the sinister organisation that is tracking Jimmy and were introduced to some more characters I couldn't put it down and the last third or so of the book I read in one sitting. The books go from strength to strength as well, the characters grow and I found the stories more emotionally engaging and also funnier - these aren't comedies but there are a handful of one liners in each of them that are genuinely funny.
My students love Jimmy - before Christmas I did an activity at Book Club where students chose their literary best friends and Jimmy was mentioned more than once by Year 7 students. And I like Jimmy too well enough but my favourite characters, probably due to being an adult myself, are Viggo and Saffron - especially Saffron. I always enjoy it when YA novels have empathetic adult characters as well as teen ones who aren't just generic parents or generic baddies. Saffron especially I have a bit of a girl crush on and I was sad to see her not feature so heavily in Revenge but I have been assured that she is back in Sabotage. Having said that I also really love Felix, Jimmy's best friend who provides many of the laughs with his plans such as escaping NJ7 thusly; "We should get ourselves a boat, and load it with all these computers, and live like techno-pirates... We could, like, live off squid..." And I don't want to give any spoilers but a pretty awesome (and redheaded, so points from me) character is introduced in Revenge that I hope we see more of.
I also appreciate that there is something going on underneath the excitement. The series is based in an alternate UK - the Neo-Democratic State of Great Britain and it gives teenagers plenty to think about in terms of freedom, choice and responsibility both in terms of how our own society works and also on a personal level. I've mentioned that my students love the books and this gives the series such a huge tick for me. A lot of my Year 7 and 8 boys who wouldn't classify themselves as readers (and a healthy handful of girls) have tried these at my behest and come back begging for the next one. When Joe visited my school, he spoke to all of Year 7 about writing stories and he had them laughing helplessly but also, and more importantly, inspired. One of reading's toughest critics, a boy in Year 7, reported back about the session, "I didn't like it, well, apart from the bits when he made up the stories, and the bit where he put the microphone in his mouth (be warned about this, fellow librarians) oh, and the bit where he did the Scottish accent..." and the list continued to cover pretty much the entire event until even he had to admit he actually had quite enjoyed it.
I've tried not to give anything away, plot-wise, and spoil the enjoyment of discovering all the twists and turns for yourself but pick these up and you will find yourself in underground London, rural France and Chinatown, New York amongst other places and find yourself wondering such things as whether it really is possible to kill someone with an umbrella.