Steel Trapp: The Academy

Steel Trapp

Author: Ridley Pearson

Publication: Disney / Hyperion, 2010

Pages: 416

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  This is the second novel in the Steel Trapp series, but it is also Steel’s first introduction to Wynncliff Academy and works just fine as a stand-alone novel.  I haven’t read the first novel in the series and had no problem getting into this one.

Steven ‘Steel’ Trapp has an incredible photographic memory that enables him to recall anything that he’s ever seen or done – no matter how brief or complicated –instantaneously and in complete detail.  His father, who he recently discovered works for the FBI, has sent him to the exclusive Wynncliff Academy.

When Steel gets there, he finds that his friend Kaileigh is also there on the recommendation of his father.  The previous year Steel met Kaileigh on a train to Washington DC and the two of them worked together to foil an international terrorist.  Steel is thrilled to have Kaileigh around, but suspicious of his father’s motives.

He soon begins to notice strange things about the school.  Kids enter the boy’s bathroom late at night and never come out.  There are secret doors and tunnels everywhere.

What Steel doesn’t know is that Wynncliff is a special school.  Every year, a handful of students there are chosen for ‘The Program’.  They will be trained as spies for the US Government and sent on missions to eavesdrop in foreign embassies.

Steel’s determined to find out what’s going on.  But his investigations soon turn up more than he bargained for, and if he’s not careful, his first assignment for ‘The Program’ could prove deadly.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: I liked the concept of Steel’s special gift being his memory.  It’s unusual among spy novels, but Pearson puts it to excellent use as Steel finds quick escape routes that no one else would have noticed and anticipates how his opponents will react to any given situation based on what he’s already observed of their behavior.  He even adapts his memory to excel at an unusual – but apparently very real – sport called ga-ga.

Wynncliff Academy is a cool place, full of tunnels and secret passageway – the kind of thing you’d always like to find but never stumble across – and the way that Steel and his friends go about discovering and exploring them is a whole lot of fun.

What I Liked the Least: There were a few places where I found Pearson’s language to be clunky.  It didn’t bother me too much, but was occasionally noticeable.  Perhaps one of the most annoying instances was actually in the first paragraph, where Pearson writes, “The brightly lit lower level corridor stretched out ahead of him, impossibly long, like some kind of throat, offering no place for Steel to hide.”  It was the description of the corridor being like a throat that really threw me.  I almost put the novel down right there.  But I’m glad I didn’t.

I found it odd, towards the end of the book, how little training some of the older agents had in self-defense.  A couple of them come to Steel’s rescue, but get themselves in trouble because they can’t fight as well as a street kid.  I figured Wynncliff would have offered its senior agents more self-defense training and was surprised by how easily they were overcome.

How Good was the Action?  This was a good spy story, but I’d hesitate to call it an action story.  There are moments of action, when Steel is in a dark tunnel with a group of older students headed his way or near the end when Steel and Kaileigh are about to be discovered stealing documents from a foreign embassy.  But it’s minimal, and the one fight scene was vague.

How Engaging was the Story?   I really got into the story of Steel’s quest to uncover the secret at Wynncliff and his tempestuous relationship with Kaileigh.  Pearson keeps things moving forward, as each discovery that Steel makes yields as many questions as answers, forcing him to take more risks and dig ever deeper – and forcing Kaileigh to decide yet again whether she’s willing to take the next step with him.  For me, that was the best part of the story.  The whole book was good, but I thought that the story became slightly less engaging once Steel had actually discovered ‘The Program’ and been sent on his first mission.

Overall Assessment: This was a fun spy story with a bit of high tech gear and a lot of good old fashioned nosy detective work.  Steel is a great character and Pearson has made excellent use of his fantastic memory skills.  And Kaileigh is just as resourceful in her own way, making the two a great team.  I would hesitate to call this an adventure story, but it was a fun read and an interesting new take on the teenage spy.

Profanity: None

Sex: Some kissing and mild flirtation

Violence: Minimal to none.

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