Book Club Pick: November 2014
Title: The Recruit
Author: Robert Muchamore
Series: CHERUB (Book one)
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
First Published: 2004
A terrorist doesn’t let strangers in her flat because they might be undercover police or intelligence agents, but her children bring their mates home and they run all over the place.
The terrorist doesn’t know that a kid had bugged every room in her house, made copies of all her computer files and stolen her address book. The Kid works for CHERUB.
CHERUB is not James Bond. There are no master criminals or high-tech gadgets. CHERUB kids live in the real world. They slip under adult radar and get information that sends criminals and terrorists to jail. For official purposes, these children do no exist.
The novel opens with eleven (soon to be twelve) year-old James Choke at school. Teacher’s pet Samantha Jennings relentlessly teases James about his obese, stolen goods dealing mother Gwen. James retaliates pushing Samantha against the wall. She cuts her face on a protruding nail. Panicked James flees the classroom knocking his teacher down in the process. James’ day only gets worse when Samantha’s older brother Greg corners him, shreds his clothes with a knife and delivers a mighty punch to his stomach.
Before James can tell his mother about what happened at school Gwen tragically passes away after drinking alcohol while on prescription medication. James and his nine-year-old tomboy half-sister Lauren are taken to Nebraska Home, a care home. The next morning Lauren is told she is going to live with father Ron – but he does not want James.
James is befriended by thirteen-year-old Kyle Blueman, whom he shares a room with at Nebraska Home. Despite warnings from Kyle, James falls in with the wrong crowd and after he offends teen gang ring leader Rob Vaughn, the boys set him up to get caught in a liquor store robbery.
The next morning following his arrest James wakes up naked at an unknown facility where he finds everyone is wearing different coloured t-shits and no one will give him a straight answer. James finally meets Dr. Terrance ‘Mac’ McAfferty, who explains that he is at the training campus for CHERUB, a top secret intelligence branch of MI5, where youth aged ten to seventeen undergo extensive training to become spies.
Mac puts James through three entrance tests. If he passes them – he can then choose if he wishes to train to become a secret agent. After passing the recruitment test James returns to Nebraska House where he learns that roommate Kyle and the home’s counsellor work for CHERUB and arranged for James to be recruited.
Three weeks after his arrival James is partnered with Kerry Chang and enters 100 day gruelling training programme under the sadistic Norman Large. Will he pass basic training, earn his grey t-shirt and become a CHERUB agent?
The narrative is written is first person and is easy to read with short chapters. There is plenty of action and adventure to keep readers turning the pages.
The book does feature some moderate language and violence. The central protagonist is a flawed character – he has anger issues, smokes, drinks alcohol, steals, vandalises property. But ultimately James’ redeemable feature is that he cares for his sister Lauren and he begins to develop a moral compass and come to terms with the idea that the good guys have do bad things and the bad guys aren’t necessarily all bad.
The novel tackles some tough topics that would be relevant to young adults such as bullying, peer pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, the loss of a parent and grief.
I would recommend this book for audiences aged 11+. It is probably going to appeal most to younger teen boys.
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Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.