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I usually order books in a series one at a time - in large part because that is all I can afford. However - I had a few extra quid recently, and was able to get good prices on a number of the books I was reading in this series, so I took the plunge and ordered a number of titles at once. After I had ordered them I started thing - what if the series fizzles out. There are a total of 12 books in this series, would the author be able to keep the stories fresh and unique? Thankfully, the answer was yes, at least so far and this is book 8.
I have gone into much more detail on this series as a whole in earlier reviews, so I will keep it as short as possible for this one. The main character in all of these books is James Adams, who begins the series at age 12 and is now nearing 16. We've seen James go from a somewhat spoiled and at times selfish child, to a fairly mature and decent young man. This series does have a lot to say about growing up, relationships and everyday teenage angst, but in addition to everday teenage woes, the children in this series also act as undercover agents. The idea itself nearly put me off the series as too implausible, but once I got started, I really enjoyed the books - despite not being anywhere close to their target audience - teenage boys.
If you are new to the series, this is most certainly not the book the start with. A large amount of the story is based on the relationships between the characters, and I do feel that I would have been lost reading this book without having read any of the others first. While this series is meant to be a spy thriller for young adults, there is always a lot more to each story than that, and this book in particular deals with the relationships between the agents as much as the mission itself. In fact James will not even begin his mission until page 175. The total length of this book is 389 pages. The book begins with James trying his hand at working as a CHERUB instructor. He seems to be looking for what he wants to do with his life in the future, and as of yet, he isn't finding any answers. I think a lot of 15 year old will relate to this. He still has to find his place in the world.
There is also another story involving Lauren and Kyle, and James finally comes completely to terms with his relationship with Kyle. James and Kyle are best friends, and having spent so much time together, in many ways are more like brothers than mates. What complicated matters was the fact that Kyle is gay. When James first found out he struggled to accept this fact - and see Kyle for himself rather than a new label. He does reasonably well, but he stumbles, both boys end up hurt at times, and they grow and move on. I can't say how much I liked the way this was worked into the story over several books. It is never a major issue, just a theme running in the background, but it is covered so completely realistically, and without judgement. It doesn't make James out to be awful because he struggles at first - most very young boys would - nor does the fact that James makes a few blunders spell the end of the relationship. The series shows James grow as a typical preteen boy who reacts with a bit of horror, to a self confident young adult who is able to accept and love his best friend exactly as he is. Please don't read anything into love that shouldn't be there - James remains straight - having a gay friend does not change who you are - but there is nothing wrong with really loving a close friend either. I don't think every teen will face with this issue, but I think this book really presents a positive way of dealing with for those who do. Most importantly, I think it encourages young people to see the issue from all sides, and think of the other persons feelings as well.
Once we finally get to the mission, we see James reunited with his old friend Junior from Class A. James knew Junior from an earlier mission in which he helped gather information responsible for sending Junior's father, one of Europe's largest drug dealers to prison. Junior, however never knew of James involvement in the case, and sees him only as an old friend. When they first met, both boys were 12 years old. Junior had a few issues, but James really liked him, and he was showing promise as a future boxer. But at 12 years of age - he was also starting to experiment with hard drugs. James was sorely tempted as well, but fate intervened and our young hero stayed clean. Drug use is grounds for immediate expulsion from CHERUB.
Three and half years later we see the toll drugs can take on a young body. Junior no longer boxes, he doesn't go to school, work or have any hobbies. His life revolves around the next high. The sad thing is - we all know a Junior - it as if their life was cut short - everything they might have been stripped away from them. Junior the boxer, the son and the friend has died - all that remains is Junior the addict looking for his next fix, and he is truly heartbreaking character. While James is struggling to mature and find himself, Junior has never grown or developed. He is stuck in the position of an angry child, and the saddest thing is, even should he ever break away from drugs, he will have missed such a critical stage of development, when he should have been growing into a young man. This is why I see drug abuse as so horrible in young children. It deprives them of their identity. An adult can experiment and walk away, they still know how to live without dope. For some young people, getting high is all their is to life.
James must use his friendship with Junior to infiltrate a more serious criminal enterprise. With the profits from drug running at stake, rival gangs have carved up Junior's fathers old empire, and open warfare has broken out on the streets. James and Bruce Norris will find themselves on one side of a brutal gang war while CHERUB agents Michael and Gabrielle on the other. This mission will be packed with action, adventure, and some fairly extreme violence - in other words just the thing to keep boys reading. But it also has enough depth and a real sense of story to keep girls, and even adults hooked as well. Robert Muchamore has a huge following among both adults and teens - but not everyone likes him.
I have been following with some amusement the stories of Muchamore's books being banned in some American schools. I was surprised to notice some British schools are following the trend. Books were removed and visit from the author cancelled at at London's Highgate Junior School after parents complained. I do feel these books are just a bit too advanced for my 7 year old. As he is home educated - I'm not sure if he is completely aware of all the issues raised in this series. If he were in an ordinary school, I have no doubt he would be familiar with all the themes. All the same, more often then not I read the young adult books out loud to him. I'd rather not read some of these books out loud. Sexual situations are just not something you want to read about with your mother! My son is also very sensitive to the suffering others, and I don't really want to have to tell him some of these things really happen.
Muchamore's books deal with some really strong issues for children's books. There has been one attempted rape, human trafficking, drugs, guns, terrorism and death. There are some sexual scenes, but these are not graphically described - and in fact they do not go too far as the characters are waiting until they are older. The teenage boys however would rather not wait - it's the girl's decision. This is of course completely realistic. Of course teenage boys have fantasies. Yes they swear, fight and make out with girls. But it is the fact that Muchamore's characters behave so much like real teens that makes these books highly readable to the target audience.
I can only say - if adults are concerned by these books - read them yourself. Although the subject matter is very mature, these are really dealt with in such a positive way. I have never read a book or series of books with a stronger anti drug message, but it does so without being preachy, hysterical or unrealistic. We can't tell children if you smoke a joint you will die - they know perfectly well they won't. But the book shows the gradual deterioration of characters, and their lives eaten away bit by bit by drugs. It also has the main characters pondering how different their lives might have been if they had gotten involved with drugs. It handles other sensitive topics in a similar manner.
These books are questionable, in my opinion, for very young readers, I myself have decided to wait before giving them to my son. I would prefer that he wait a few years for these books. As a parent - this is my right - but I wouldn't ban them for anyone else. Each parent knows there own child best, and each parent should decide for themselves. And for all my concerns, if my son were not so caught up in his graphic novels right now, and really wanted to read these books, I would allow it - but I would also discuss some of the issues that come up with him. This is another advanatage to reading the children's books yourself as well - you can use them as a jumping off point to discuss sensitive issues. And I also have to point out, in all fairness, that I tend to be a bit of a prude. Is there anything in these books that children couldn't see on daytime television? Most certainly not - in fact these books are ever so much tamer than many daytime television programmes.
There is also under-aged drinking in this series - and this is dealt with in realistic fashion as well. The children suffer terrible hangovers, and often regret acting like complete fools, but the odd drink doesn't ruin their lives. I must say, I loved Muchamore's term for hungover, he describes it as feeling "delicate". I suppose this could be taken as acceptance of teenage drinking. I feel that Muchamore included this because he wants this book to read very much like real teens lives except of course for the secret agent bit. Real teens usually do drink - at least occasionally. Likewise, occasional use of foul language is common in children, in fact the ones in the book use far less of it than any real teens I know. then again, Belfast isn't exactly known for prim and proper speech. Violence is to be expected in a series with secret agents of any kind.
On the one hand, I can sympathise with parents wanting to shelter their children from all the nasty things in the world, but in reality this isn't possible. We like to think our children are unaware of many things - in reality they probably already know much more than we think. This series deals with several nasty issues, but in a very positive way, and I think most parents would be well pleased to see their children follow the examples of the children in these books. I strongly believe the overall moral tone of these books is quite positive, and I feel that they may be of some help to children dealing with issues like these in real life. These are also books that children really want to read. Boys often say books are boring - not these ones. Banning all the books children actually want to read may just result in children who just do not read. On the other hand --- nothing makes a child want to read a book like telling them they can not. Maybe we should widely publicise the fact that these books have been banned - you might just get a lot more more children reading them.
James Adams is back again with many new characters as well as old ones from previous books. James meets an old friend from 'Class A' and he ends up helping James in completing his current mission.
The book is about a small time drug dealer who goes for the big cash at every opportunity that presents itself to him, and of course, it's got to be gained through illegal means.
The dealer shows restraint in his ways of organising his operations, although he is challenged by a rival who takes a different attitude to the goals in mind, which essentially leads to an action-packed story throughout most of the novel inclusive of very well-laid out encounters between the rival gangs that are housing the undercover main characters.
As James has a feeling of nostalgia he is caught between gang wars and has to find a way out. This book has an exhilarating storyline and successfully keeps your attention as you read, and it almost becomes a problem when you do not wish to leave your chair for certain necessities!
The language used throughout is virtually unsophisticated and unenthusiastic, and there are profanities and indecent scenes uttered and described respectively, although this could be seen as an opportunity for the book to present itself to both young and old readers.
When two of Britain's most violent gangs start a turf war, bloodshed and mayhem cannot be avoided. James Adams has the connections to enable him to infiltrate the most brutal of these, and uncover vital information for the police; but he needs to act quickly, for the longer it takes, the more violence that occurs, and the more dead bodies that turn up...
'Mad Dogs' is the 7th book in the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. This book is one of the most exciting yet, and is guaranteed to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
It is cleverly written, and full of exciting twists. You'll never be bored whilst reading this! You are able to really get into the story, and feel the tension mounting. It's as if you are there, joining in with it all.
Over all, I would recommend this book to teenagers of all ages; It's a gritty story packed with excitement and anticipation.