The YA novel Kiki Strike: Inside The Shadow City, is unlike any book I’ve ever read. The main character, twelve year-old Ananka Fishbein, lives a relatively boring life until she finds an enormous subterranean city underneath New York, and meets Kiki Strike, a young girl who notices everything about everyone and seems to be able to appear and disappear at will. Together, they assemble a crew called the Irregulars, composed of delinquent Girl Scouts with unusual talents, to explore the labyrinthine city. The book is filled with hilarious quips, heartfelt gestures of solidarity, and an empowering message for girls and geeks everywhere.
This novel manages to entertain and educate at the exact same time. While reading about the Irregulars and the Shadow City, you get glimpses into the history of New York, and at the end of every chapter there is information on everything from historical underground cities to caring for an injured colleague, although the beginning of the book includes a disclaimer concerning the medical advice. Through reading the Kiki Strike trilogy, I learned so much about New York City and countless other tidbits of information like how to tell when someone’s lying, how to make the right impression, and how to “be a master of disguise.”
In addition to being a great read, Kiki Strike: Inside The Shadow City provides role models for girls, role models who give girls the confidence to be independent and ambitious. It emphasizes the fact that being nerdy doesn’t make you boring or somehow inferior to anyone else; in fact, it’s an invaluable asset. In the book, the Irregulars are all tween girls around the age of twelve, with incredible skills in fields historically thought of as fields that were for men only, such as chemistry and engineering. The girls regularly prove themselves to be just as capable as anyone else, despite their age and gender.
In the beginning of the book, when Kiki Strike first assembles the Irregulars, she tries to convince them that they can explore the Shadow City by themselves, and tells them this: “Each of you has an unusual gift...that has gone unnoticed by your parents, your teachers, and even the Girl Scouts... you could choose to do something truly spectacular.” When Ananka hears this, she internalizes the messages and goes from the unsure wallflower she was from the first few chapters to an assertive, highly capable girl at the end.
If you’re a fan of history, mystery, nerd-power, or girl-power, you need to read Kiki Strike: Inside The Shadow City, and you won’t be able to put it down.
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. Bloomsbury, 2008. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!