Speculating on SpecFic

Fantastic Literature: From epic fantasy to fairytales to myth-making

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover  - Ally Carter 3.5/5Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is the third instalment of the Gallagher Girls series, and begins at the start of Cammie's junior year (which is Yr 11, I understand). Cammie's visiting her friend Macey in Boston when everything changes, and suddenly, the real spy-world is nearer than ever before. Where before everything was a learning experience, a training exercise, Cammie and her friends find themselves thrust into the midst of a conspiracy.I think the plot of this book is a vast improvement on the other two: there's finally some substance and meat to a series that was previously mostly concerned with the silly adventures of a very silly girl. I liked the action, the intrigue, and enjoyed all the new characters (and the reappearance of some old favourites). The secrets in this book aren't as obvious, or as trivial, as they were before. In particular, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover isn't all about the opposite sex, thank all the powers that be. There's a lot going on throughout the book, and I feel like I got to know a bit more about Cammie, her mother and their family. I still don't feel like we really made much progress on the series arc, or about what happened to Cammie's father, but maybe that's not the point of the series after all. In terms of character, I don't really think I liked Cammie any more than in previous books. But I feel that the author has gone to great lengths in this novel to explain some of the incongruities in Cammie's character: in particular, she goes to some effort to balance Cammie's need for camouflage and to be unnoticed with her notoriety and penchant for drawing attention to herself through rule breaking. I also liked that in this book, Cammie is a lot more reluctant to break rules, perhaps because she finally understands how many things could go wrong when she does.Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is a lot more focussed on Macey that the other books have been (they've largely focussed on Cammie + a boy), and I found I really like this way of telling a story. Boys dance around the periphery of the narrative, but this novel is more focused on the friendships between Cammie, Macey, Bex and Liz, which I personally enjoyed. Rather than her group of sidekicks backing her up on some hare-brained plan, it's finally Cammie playing a supporting role to a friend in need. Since I have felt that on previous occasions the group dynamic has always been one of others giving and Cammie taking, I quite liked the change because it shows a compassionate, selfless side to Cammie that, until now, I'd found woefully lacking.There are still inconsistencies and incongruities in the story and the way the author tells it: for example, Cammie explains how smart her friend Macey is great at math because she can do linear algebra in her head, but at a spy-school for the most gifted girls in the country, that's a skill I'd expect the students to have. I think one of my main problems with Cammie and her friends is that they aren't smarter than I was at that age -- I graduated in the top 2% of my state in AU, and consistently tested in the top 5% of the country in all the skills tests we did. Cammie and her friends are gifted, but not any more so than I was at that age, so it's hard for me to take them seriously, because by the internal logic of the series, I should have been in a spy-training school as well.One of the other things I have noticed is that Cammie and her friends are always being taught how to overpower men. I think this is somewhat due to the author using 'man' to denote any enemy opponent, and also because many of the covert operations these girls can expect to be involved in will have male targets. I'm realistic about that, but it's always kill a man with uncooked spaghetti and kill a man with an issue of People Magazine and I just want to know whether the girls are also trained in specifically fighting women. Especially since one of Cammie and Macey's attackers was a woman, and her aunt and other alumni of Gallagher Girls are women, so there must be many more female enemy agents around too.Another thing that ticked me off a little bit is how Cammie, after finding out a bunch of secrets, hurting herself, and being caught breaking school rules, focussed on how a boy didn't react to her the way she wanted him to rather than the important stuff. But at least the author, through Cammie, recognised at the absurdity behind her reaction.So there you have it. I definitely enjoyed Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover more than the other two books in the series, and I can see why fans say the series improves at book 3. It's still a little too juvenile and boy-centric for my tastes, I really do need my female protagonists to be able to put aside the boy-drama and focus on, I don't know, surviving dangerous situations, but I see the appeal this series has. I said before that if I don't enjoy this book, I'd be swearing off the series forever, but since I did like it, and want to know more about the world and the secrets everyone's hiding, I'll be continuing.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.