Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (Gallagher Girls #2) by Ally Carter
This is not my favorite book in the series. It is an important book for the introduction of new characters and ideas that play a major role later in the series, but it just doesn't thrill me like most of the other books in the series. Despite that, it is a book that I've read, and part of a series that I love, so in the interest of completeness, here it goes.
It looks like I'm going to have to do one of my after-the-Amazon-capsule spoiler capsules on this one. That is because the first part of this book is a mystery, but most of the action takes place after the mystery is solved. I don't want to spoil the mystery by talking about how it works out in this capsule.
"Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy" begins with Cammie being debriefed/interrogated at a secret facility beneath a shopping mall. Cammie promises that she won't try to contact Josh again, secure in the knowledge that her mom is watching from behind the two-way mirror. When they unhook the polygraph and let Cammie go, she comes out to find that her mom was working on something else during the interrogation. This is a huge disappointment to Cammie because a girl's first interrogation only comes once in her life and her mom missed it.
Cammie, Liz, Bex, and Macey soon find out that Rachel's absence was due to something called "Black thorn," or "Blackthorn," or possibly "Blackthorne." Additionally, one of the wings of the school is closed, ostensibly due to a chemical fume leak, but Cammie knows that there is no way for fumes from the chemistry labs to reach that wing, which only serves to make the girls more curious. They set about to find out what, or who, "Blackthorn" is, which involves sneaking around their own school and, in one memorable instance, Cammie snooping in her mom's desk during their Sunday night dinner.
Eventually, of course, the girls find out what "Blackthorn" means and the impact it has on them changes them forever. Wow, that was dramatic, wasn't it? I don't get enough drama in my life, apparently.
As much as I love this series, for various reasons that I will go into in my spoiler capsule and may also go into in a "Thoughts About the Gallagher Girls Series" post that I'm considering, "Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy: may be the weakest of the books. Something happens that shakes Cammie's confidence in a way that I don't really think it needed to be shaken. I guess it was an attempt to make Cammie more human or relatable, but the fact that even Liz Sutton, Girl Genius doesn't put together what seemed patently obvious to me was kind of a disappointment.
Everything following this paragraph is a spoiler for the solution to the "Blackthorn" mystery. If you do not want to know what "Blackthorn" is before you read the book, do not read any further.
"Blackthorn," it turns out, is the Blackthorne Institute for Boys, a school for boys that is similar to the Gallagher Academy and which was Joseph Solomon's alma mater. The event that shakes Cammie's confidence is that the girls are taken to the National Mall, where they are to avoid a tail. Cammie fails to avoid hers and she is downcast by it, feeling that she must not be as good as she has always believed herself to be. However, here's the kicker, which Liz never seemed to notice. The Gallagher Girls were taken to the National Mall in their uniforms, which obviously means that they would be easy for the Blackthorne Boys to find. Cammie's failing was not in not being as invisible as she always thought she was, but in not being as assertive as a spy should be. She told the boy who was her tail to get lost, but he wouldn't go. If she'd been more assertive (and possibly even made a fuss and then disappeared into the crowd soon after the fuss died down), she could have lost her tail and made the rendezvous successfully.
After that activity, a few Blackthorne Boys then come to spend the rest of the year at the Gallagher Academy. The theory behind this is that the Gallagher Girls don't have enough exposure to boys and that they need some time working and studying and socializing with them before graduation takes them into the world of intelligence. The boy who was Cammie's tail, Zach, ends up partnered with her at school and he's not exactly pleasant company. He ends up flirting with her in that abrasive way that is supposed to be sexy (but that always makes me want to get as far away from the flirter as I can get).
I also have another theory about the Blackthorne Boy in question, but I won't go into that one, since that's another topic for another book.