June 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the acclaimed Disney television show Kim Possible, a staple of my childhood and one of the shows that marked the era as the golden age of Disney Channel originals (along with my other favourites: The Proud Family, Lizzie McGuire, and American Dragon: Jake Long).
Kim Possible had everything—the titular character was a cheerleader-super-spy with brilliant scientist parents and annoying/endearing twin brothers, a goofy best friend and his pet naked mole rat, a hilarious and vaguely inept supervillain, and his much cooler and way more competent henchwoman (who now has a filter in her name on Tiktok).
It also got a live-action film in 2019, but we’re going to pretend that doesn’t exist.
Kim Possible wasn’t just your average comedy-action animated TV show though. Kim was cool, both her parents were clever and supported her endeavors and intelligence, and Kim was allowed to have dimension: to be a cheerleader, a skilled martial artist, a good friend, a daughter to loving parents, a sometimes frustrated but ultimately loving older sister, a superhero, and feminine as well as smart and sporty.
Not all of this was typical for a kid’s show then (or even now), but Kim Possible went further and tackled things like male-female friendships and the ‘friendzone’, and allowed both Kim and her best friend Ron to grow as people and, eventually, as a couple in a healthy relationship, who make up for each other’s shortcomings as the show progressed. Ultimately this, along with the show’s dialogue, humour, and animation, made it appealing both to older and younger viewers of all genders.
Not to say it was a perfect show and didn’t have its faults (Kim had what felt like token, vaguely stereotyped Black friends Wade and Monique, and Ron could be bumbling to the point of annoyance), but it had a lot going for it despite this. So, in honour of the show’s anniversary, I’ve compiled a few recommendations of book series that feature a teen spy heroine and have the same spirit of well-balanced action, adventure, drama, romance, and comedy.
I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
The first in a series, this features Cammie Morgan, a Gallagher Girl of a school for exceptional women that teaches all the usual courses as well as the fundamentals of being an effective spy, like Covert Operations, Ancient Languages, Countries of the World, Culture and Assimilation, and Protection and Enforcement. She’s an elite spy-in-training, but she’s still a teenage girl, dealing with interpersonal conflicts with her schoolmates, a crush on an ordinary boy who thinks she’s ordinary too, and a mystery revolving around her missing and presumed dead Dad…
This is ultimately a straightforward book in terms of plot, but it’s so charming and fun that it’ll keep you hooked right through the first book and on to the rest (six in total, with three related novellas). The cast is lively and engaging and fun, the gadgets are cool, and Cammie herself is a clever delight, doing her best, kicking butt, and falling in love.
Also Known As by Robin Benway
Maggie Silver has an unusual life: she works for the world’s premiere spy organization along with her extremely cool parents, and it’s a life she’s used to and loves and thrives in. And then she’s given her first solo assignment working undercover at a boarding school…and it turns out that hacking safes and ruining plans for world domination is maybe a little bit easier than tackling cliques and befriending the son of a potential national security threat without blowing her cover or falling for her mark.
My favourite thing about this series, and something that’s sorely lacking in a lot of YA, is that the teenagers actually sound like teenagers without also being extremely annoying. Funny, considering that the premise (underage international spies) is completely bonkers. And yet, Benway manages to infuse her characters with verve, heart, and snappy dialogue, as well as allowing them to be as flawed and free as real teenagers often are. Bonus points: the friendship between Maggie and Roux is endearing, supportive, and hilarious.
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Sophronia is anything but a proper lady, much to the despair of her mother. So imagine her dismay (and her mother’s relief) when Sophronia is accepted into a finishing school that might finally tame her. That’s not at all what happens. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is a place where students learn dance, dress, and etiquette, as well as the art of dealing out death, diversion, and espionage, all without affecting their reputation in the eye of the Ton.
This one is slightly different from my other two recommendations, in that it’s a steampunk spy thriller rather than a modern one, but it has the same spirit of ‘teenage spy superhero’, making it fitting for this list. I guarantee that if you enjoyed Kim Possible and the Enola Holmes (2020) film, you’ll enjoy this series. Carriger is a master of wit and wickedness, and Sophronia is a delight to read, as are the supporting cast of characters, who are all charming, clever, droll, or silly-in-a-fun way. It’s a fun, light read, with subsequent installments developing more and more as the characters grow older, without ever sacrificing the lightheartedness that is it’s foundation.
Did you have a favourite animated tv show growing up? Were you able to find reads that matched the experience of watching that show? If so, drop the names in the comments, I’d love to check it out!