Rylander, Chris. Codename Zero
4 February 2014, Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Abovethetreeline.com
Carson Fender likes to liven up life in his sleepy North Dakota town by staging elaborate pranks, like having a herd of fainting goats (this is a REAL THING!) invade the school yard so the school is evacuated and his friends Dillon and Danielle can glue all the doors shut. Carson is distracted when a mysterious man gives him a package, tells him not to open it, and to give it to Mr. Jensen. Carson gets detention from the long suffering principal who can never quite pin the crimes on him, and Carson has to debate whether or not he should open the package. Of course, he does, and it ends up being a computer saying that there is a certain amount of time before it self destructs. Carson doesn't know how to get the computer to shut up, and ends up trying to figure out which of the two Mr. Jensen's at his school should get it. It turns out that they are both secret agents, and there is a small agency headquarters at the school. It turns out that the new vaguely Slavic kid, Olek, is in the witness protection program because his parents need to testify against bad guys, and Carson is recruited to integrate Olek into the school so that the bad guys don't know which kid to nab. Of course, there's double agents and double crossing, and Carson (Agent Zero) is let go when Olek is kidnapped, but Carson is not willing to let his new friend suffer and comes to his aid.
Strengths: While the students adore The Fourth Stall series, I always found the series to be far fetched. Spy agencies in North Dakota are FAR more believable to me, and I loved this. There were tons of great funny lines, like the description of the super paranoid Dillon--"Dillon was convinced that his younger sister was really a demon and was trying to kill him in his sleep by cramming Lucky Charms marshmallows into his ears."-- and fun names like Agent Chum Bucket. This had a perfect balance of goofy and action, plus a fantastic cover. Can't wait to get a copy!
Weaknesses: This goes a tiny bit overboard on the importance of Olek's friendship to Carson, which I kind of liked but seems out of character for the target demographic.