Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (2006) is Kirsten Miller‘s first novel. It follows Ananka Fishbein, a New York native, as she discovers a sink hole in her neighborhood when she is twelve. Not one to miss out on a good adventure, Ananka decides to investigate. In the hole she finds a hidden underground city and Kiki Strike, girl spy extraordinaire.
Spy that she is, Kiki disappears before Ananka can find out who she is. Luckily, Kiki stands out in a crowd thanks to her small size, pale skin, and blonde-white hair. Eventually the girls meet up again and Kiki begins to assemble a band of reject Girl Scouts to map the shadow city (note the title). The girls that Kiki finds are not what could be called realistic characters. In addition to a girl spy, Miller introduces girl master-forger, chemist, and master of disguise. In other words, this is one of those novels that really does require a willing suspension of disbelief. Probable or not, the girls definitely kick butt. Here’s a set of girl-power-embodying characters without all the messy contradictions common to the girl power feminist movement.
The first hundred pages or so is set up for the actual plot. At this point the narrator (Ananka) is 12 but still sounds like an annoying grandmother talking down to the readers–a fact that I found particularly annoying even if Ananka does offer some useful advice at the end of each chapter (how to be a master of disguise, how to avoid being followed, etc.) The story gets interesting around 150 pages in, which would be too late if the last half of the book wasn’t so good.
Some books can be described as noir films, others are color movies. This one is definitely a cartoon. But a really well-animated, thoughtful cartoon. It’s silly, but in this case that isn’t a bad thing.
Despite my misgivings, the story is interesting (especially after the set up phase) and Ananka becomes significantly less irritating when the narrative catches up to the present time of the story. It’s a good book for girls who are trying to break away from the damsel in distress formula common to traditional fairy tales.
Some parts had me laughing out loud. Some parts were written down for future reference. In this book it seemed like Miller was still trying to define her writing voice, so hopefully things will only get better in the next installment.
Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld