Long Island author Beth Ain’s third entry in an award-winning series from Scholastic, Starring Jules (Super-Secret Spy Girl), for all its charm and excellent black & white ink and wash drawings by Anne Keenan Higgins, may raise questions about its target audience.
Told in the first person by precocious Jules Bloom, AKA Julesium, who turns 8, after her second-grade year ends, the story has to do with Jules getting a small part in a movie that will be made in Montreal over the summer (she had been in commercials). She must part from her BFF, who is off to London, and share the car trip to Canada with a yucky classmate who throws up a lot. She’s also disappointed when she learns that her father will fly up later, though her mom is “crazy” wonderful, and Jules gets on fine with her younger brother, Big Henry, who lisps. She’s a bit nervous about being in a movie featuring a famous teen idol (with “pizzazz”) but delighted to be playing a spy and getting to slide in mud without a stunt double. It’s all sunny, if a bit too upbeat precious, especially for young girls of color who don’t have a “doorman” or know from “brisket” (certainly boys won’t read this).
Though Ain uses Jules’ penchant for making lists to keep the plot moving, the age-appropriate vocabulary may at times raise some eyebrows, and it’s unfortunate that the old refrain “no more teachers, no more books” is invoked here. What does it mean that Jules’ French teacher has a “beachy” voice? Or that Jules doesn’t know the word “stealth” but has no problem in having to speak a line with a “furrowed” brow? And what would she and her BFF know about “the most famous spy ever” in London, James Bond? Super critical? Probably, but the sense of privilege and good luck in having caring, fun-loving parents that informs Starring Jules, while ensuring that a young reader will have only a safe, positive experience, might make a few urban grandparents wish for Judy Blume rather than Julie Bloom.