In high school, discovering whether or not a boy likes you is a matter of the growth process, with every action or reaction dissected by your group of friends. For Cammie “The Chameleon” Morgan in Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You it’s a matter of national security. You see, the girls of Gallagher Academy aren’t your average students but spies in training, and to them “normal” is just a buzz word for blending in.
Ally Carter takes the high school experience and raises it to a whole new level by introducing her readers to an academy where student education consists of learning doctorate level physics, how to build a proper bomb and the languages of the world, and where career day involves being recruited by the CIA, the NSA or the FBI. As the daughters of career spies, these girls are well prepared for international espionage and how to kill the president of Paraguay with a fork, but not how to flirt with boys and get a date for prom. So when the ultimate chameleon, Cammie, gets made on a covert training mission in town, and made by a boy no less, the girls are a bit suspicious. After all, this boy, Josh, could be a spy, and it’s therefore necessary for Cammie to spend as much time with him as possible. All in the name of international security, of course.
In Cammie, Ally Carter has created a likable female protagonist. She’s sweet, funny, and a little bit dorky as she stumbles through discovering whether she’s experience the regular teenage dating dance with town boy Josh, or dealing with something else entirely. Here’s a girl that everyday experiences the extraordinaire, but longs for the normal she doesn’t have—a boring existence where finding out that your father won’t be coming home from his last mission doesn’t factor in. Josh represents this dream with his nuclear family and roots in Roseville that go back generations, and the longing she feels for these things is clear throughout her narrative. It’s not that Cammie doesn’t love the excitement of her legacy (her mother was a Gallagher Girl, a spy, and is now the head master), but a life without secrets sure looks pretty appealing, even if she has to lie to experience it.
Backing her in Operation: Boy are her friends Bex and Liz (daughters of spies themselves) and the reluctant Macey McHenry (bad girl, debutant, and recent Gallagher transfer); all interesting characters in their own right. Standing in the way of Cammie’s relationship with this possible sweet boy? Her mother, her legacy and the new Covert Operations Professor on the block, Joe Solomon, who just might to have it out for our young heroine.
Instead of falling into the trap of introducing too much plot and making Cammie save the world, Carter keeps the story simple (well, as simple as a teenage spy story can be) as girl meets boy, girl lies to boy to appear normal, and then girl has to deal with the fact that normal isn’t possible for a spy in training. Everything that Cammie does to respond to her life and her relationship with Josh falls within the realm of the world Carter has built. Cammie’s not a normal girl, but her basic wants and needs are the same as any other teenager: the need to fit in, belong and feel loved. The theme (which the author by no means hits the reader over the head with) is applicable to anyone in that lying sucks and there are consequences. Cammie lies to herself, her mother and to Josh, and in doing so hurts them all. While the consequences of this tie up a bit too nicely with the mother, the author doesn’t try to convince us that Josh will forget and forgive. Is there hope? Plenty, but there is also much to be explored in later novels.
With I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Ally Carter creates a world that will appeal to anyone who wished their life could be a bit more James Bond and a bit less “Leave It To Beaver”. It’s a fun, fast-paced story that manages to take heavy subject matter—the death of a parent, lying, the high school experience—and brighten and lighten with a coating of lip gloss in much the same way that Bond’s martini washes away the aftertaste of the reality of the international arms race. While Cammie’s narrative isn’t flawless (a few comparisons and descriptions seemed more adult woman than teenage girl—even if she is a spy), it’s a joy to read and I can’t wait for the next novel to come out. The Gallagher girls are sure to have many adventures—and an extensive following—in the years to come. Highly recommended for anyone who would be interested in a blend of the Princess’ Diaries, the Private series and Goose Girl.
You can find I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You here and here and its author, Ally Carter, here.