Book Reviews

[review] United We Spy – Ally Carter

united we spy book cover ally carter gallagher girlsRelease Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased copy

Cammie Morgan has lost her father and her memory, but in the heart-pounding conclusion to the best-selling Gallagher Girls series, she finds her greatest mission yet. Cammie and her friends finally know why the terrorist organization called the Circle of Cavan has been hunting her. Now the spy girls and Zach must track down the Circle’s elite members to stop them before they implement a master plan that will change Cammie—and her country—forever.

Tell Me More: It’s been two-and-a-half years since I first read I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go back. There is nothing like rediscovering a favourite series all over again, and even as I celebrate the release of the final book, United We Spy, I’m sad not only because it’s the end, but because it’ll be years before I can take up this series again and relive the experience like new. In the meantime, I want to take this moment to thank Ally Carter for one of the best series I’ve read in my entire life.

And what makes a series great anyway?

1. Consistency. Books 1 through 6 in the Gallagher Girls series have been consistently excellent, smart and ambitious, much like its subjects. Anyone who believes that a book with a girl in a school uniform can’t be substantial is fooled by the same belief that the Gallagher Girls work to their advantage in every single chapter. United We Spy highlights the myriad ways that these girls have grown and used the way society sees women to achieve amazing and impossible things. Every time the reader falls into thinking that the story can be predicted, Cammie and her friends find another way to prove them wrong.

2. Real, powerful relationships between characters. I’ve always been more interested in the portrayal of friendships in literature than I have been in romantic attachments. The friendships on display in the Gallagher Girls series are some of the most luminous and realistic that I’ve encountered in literature. Cammie’s strength and determination, especially in United We Spy, is built on the foundation of her love for her family and friends. She doesn’t think twice about risking her life for them, not only because she knows they would never hesitate to do the same for her but that they are people worth saving. The friendship between Cammie, Bex, Liz and Macey is the crowning glory of the series, and United We Spy sees that friendship at its best. They are all brilliant girls on their own, but together? Their teamwork could single-handedly keep the world spinning on its axis.

And okay, the romance was pretty perfect. Zach is exactly what I wanted in a romantic interest for Cammie: he’s funny, sweet and human. So many YA romantic heroes these days seem too good to be true, but Zach is realistic without resorting to extremes.

3. Unpredictable plot twists. I challenge anyone to correctly predict what happens in United We Spy. Go on. I’ll wait.

Those of you who’ve read it already know that while all the plot twists and revelations make sense in hindsight, Carter handles them all masterfully, and there hasn’t been a single book in the series that is unimportant to the central arc. The right pieces of information find their way to the surface all at the right times, and the suspense is bone-chilling when it needs to be. Carter succeeds in keeping the mystery and anticipation building, and the climactic scenes all feel like walking straight into a brick wall, they’re that surprising. There were several moments where I literally screamed because I couldn’t believe what was happening. United We Spy keeps the tension turned up to the highest level, and I couldn’t be sure of who would survive the events in the novel until the very last page, as is only right for a thriller like this. It rewards readers who have followed the series faithfully, and it lays the groundwork for newer readers to return to the previous novels and pick out all the clues leading up to this one. (Frankly, I would be disappointed if those who’ve followed the series since the beginning didn’t do that too.) It’s clear that Carter has done the leg-, arm- and headwork involved in crafting this series.

4. Satisfaction. At the end of the day, a good series should tie up all its loose ends, answer its most pressing questions, and generally leave its readers with the sense that the story as told is complete. Sure, there should also be a desire for more. But if a reader can close the book knowing that the story can stand on its own and has achieved the things it wanted to achieve, good and bad, then the author has done an excellent job.

United We Spy does all of that and more.

I can’t remember the last time I was this satisfied with the final book in a series, and really only Deathly Hallows compares. No question is left hanging, and it is very difficult to talk about this without spoiling anyone, so trust me when I say that this was exactly the right ending for the story. The biggest compliment I can give is this: as I finish typing up this review, I just keep thinking about how I want to sit in a corner, hold all six books and cry for a good long while because of the fantastic reading experience they gave me. So thanks, Ally Carter–you’ve got a fan for life.

56224About Ally

Ally Carter is a writer living and working in the Midwest. She loved school so much she kept going…and going…and going…until finally she had to graduate. Now she has degrees from Oklahoma State University and Cornell University and a house and a job and other very grown-up things.

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2 replies »

  1. If I hadn’t mentioned it before, this review is perfect. The Gallagher Girls’ friendhsip, Zach as a character and a love interest, ALL OF THE PLOT TWISTS THAT I *STILL* CAN’T WRAP MY HEAD AROUND, and yesssssss, so much satisifcation from reading these books. I can’t remember a series (well, excluding Harry Potter) that did this for me by the time I’d reached the conclusion. They all seem to fall apart by then, and it just makes me feeling sad that a great story couldn’t go out that way, instead of feeling sad that a set of fantastic books have ended and there will never be any more.
    I actually spent an hour yesterday trying to remember another series that left me feeling this content, this happy, this grateful and excited and bittersweet-SAD BECAUSE IT’S OVER-while-GLAD TO HAVE BEEN ON THIS JOURNEY (I don’t know what I’m saying anymore, but you probably get the point) after I’d finished reading. “Satisfied” doesn’t even do it justice. It was everything I wanted, some things I didn’t know I wanted, some things I did not expect but the story needed, and some things she threw in there probably so her characters can have some happiness and probably because I like to think she wanted to make me flail in a good way for at least some of the moments my heart wasn’t racing… It was just so good.

    I remember a few months ago, Ally Carter said something like, “The readers want a happy ending. That is where their priorities lie. I want to write a satisifying ending. That’s my duty as a writer.” SHE GAVE US BOTH. And in a way that was natural to the story and its characters. I just can’t get over what a fantastic gift that is. This is probably a discussion for another time, but a lot of series conclusions try too hard to make the book end one way or another. Too hard to be happy that it’s an overwhelming happiness that makes no sense for the story. Or too hard to be ‘not happy’, where they’re trying to accomplish something ‘edgy’ or ‘meaningful’ with their endings and they come out a little contrived because there was a more natural, more middle way to do it. (Or they’re just good books, but bad resolutions with five hundred questions.) …Sorry. This was not meant to be a “why YA book endings make me upset” post.


    I’m going to miss these characters. I’m going to miss this world. I’m going to miss having freaking-out conversations with you, trying to figure out what will happen next, trying to make sense of what happened already, as we’ve been doing for the last few years. And all of Ally Carter’s ZACH IN A TOWEL/ ZACH COOKS BACON WITH HIS SHIRT OFF tweets because who is not going to miss those?

    …And your last paragraph in this review just made me cry. Thanks, Angel. (But seriously, this is everything I feel, and now I want to cry.)

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