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American Spy

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  3,435 ratings  ·  567 reviews
What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love? One woman struggles to choose between her honor and her heart in this enthralling espionage drama set against an unforgettable historical backdrop.

It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant but she's also a young black woman working in
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Random House
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3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,435 ratings  ·  567 reviews

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Read By RodKelly
Mar 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Solid 3.5

There are great things here: a complex protagonist who's a black FBI agent embroiled in a case that becomes more dangerous and violent as time passes. The author explores how sexism affects the main character her at the work place, and also delves into the complicated experience she had growing without her mother, to name a couple of the major themes in this novel.

But overall, the novel suffers from lack of narrative momentum. It's slow going and ineffective at keeping up the suspensefu
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book felt like a missed opportunity. It was such an interesting premise, I went into it with high hopes. Then it committed the fatal error of being boring. The framework of the book--the way the narrator is telling the story in a journal for her sons--didn't work for me. The writing style ended up being far too reflective, with not enough immediacy. I just felt like there was far too much telling and way too little in the way of showing. Plus there were lots of details in the plot that I fe ...more
Dean the Bibliophage
The synopsis for American Spy ignites the espionage thriller neurons in your brain and forces you to excitedly purchase Lauren Wilkinson’s novel of a black female intelligence officer during the Cold War, a well researched work of fiction inspired by true events. As the blurb summarises:

It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club, and her career has stalled out;
Books on Stereo
Feb 23, 2019 rated it liked it
A mid-tier spy narrative that quickly loses steam after its neck-breaking opening sequence.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
DNF - 1/3 of the way through. I really wanted to like this book, I just couldn't read it.

Thank you to Edel Weiss for the advanced copy.

I now notice that all of the other reviews are just a summary of the story line, and not about the actual book itself. I appreciate that the author was trying to do something different - she is using a narration where the protagonist is telling a story to her twin boys. The problems come in when the story will go on for a few pages, and she is talking to people
Jessica Jeffers
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a delightful twist on the spy thriller. More to come.
Apr 29, 2019 marked it as dnf
This has the worst opening paragraph: first person point of view that manages to make what should be a tension-filled moment into a myopic moment of tedium.
I unlocked the safe beneath my desk, grabbed my old service automatic, and crept toward my bedroom doorway, stealthy until I was brought to grief by a Lego Duplo that stung the sole of my foot. I hobbled the rest of the way to the door and crouched behind it.

I have no interest in subsequent insights this individual might have. Duplo, really?
Jiny S
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing

This is best story I’ve ever read that gives black women a voice as a marginalized minority in society. It is also one of the best spy books on my shelves. The storytelling is coherent, cognoscible, and not to mention heartpoundingly intense.

Throughout the narration, political ideologies permeate both the protagonist’s personal life and the on the world’s stage that she is involved in as a result of her job. She has to make so many decisions. What is right or wrong that’s not black and white. W
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
What initially attracted me to this book were two things—the artful, vibrant cover and the title. I’m not a fan of genre spy novels like Bourne Identity, but prefer when the spy content is linked to something deeper and more thematic, such as in Mailer’s HARLOT’S GHOST, DeLillo’s LIBRA, and, more recently, Lea Carpenter’s RED WHITE BLUE. Not that all good spy novels have to have intellectual heft, but in order to engage me, I want to feel something personal in the pages. And this is a genuinely ...more
Nicole O
Dec 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, netgalley, arc
I was initially drawn to this book due to its unique plot and strong female protagonist. It's a fictional story rooted in historical truths, and so I figured this book had great potential (similar to what Marlon James did with A Brief History of Seven Killings).

Unfortunately, this novel fell short for me. The story is told both in flashbacks and to her sons in the form of a letter/journal, which presents the author the opportunity to really delve into the character development. Instead - at the
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
There are many spy novels out there but the best are novels that capture the CIA’s nation destabilization efforts in a compelling and eye-opening new way.

Kudos, then, to Lauren Wilkinson, whose protagonist is Marie Mitchell, a black woman whose parents are a Harlem-born cop and a Martinique-born, FBI-operative mother. Whip smart, congenitally wary, and unable to tolerate deception, Marie is a character unlike others that readers like me have met before.

After not “playing the game” properly at th
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Revised Review 10/2018:

4 Stars

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me an advance copy of this book. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and below have provided an unbiased review.

Marie Mitchell is an FBI agent who while extremely qualified, is consistently passed over for high profile assignments. When you work for the FBI in the 1980's, you're living in a man's world. While buried in paperwork, she is left to wonder when her opportunity will come. One day, she is approached by
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This was a 3.5/4 star read for me. I can’t believe it’s not on others people’s radar!
I really enjoyed meeting Marie and getting inside her mind.
We travel with her through childhood, her adolescence and everything that shape her into her current federal agent she is. Moreover, she is the only black woman in the 90’s at her office.
It’s eye opening and at first I thought it was a bit too simply narrated for me, but then I realised I was learning as the protagonist was and that I was being lead dow
Alison Hardtmann
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book

Marie is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, knowledgeable and dedicated. But it's 1986 and Marie is a young black woman, so the FBI doesn't know what to do with her, leaving her to fill out paperwork and cultivate assets she'll never be allowed to use. She's seen a family friend sidelined and she's intent on avoiding his fate. So when the CIA comes knocking with an assignment that sounds too good to be true, she's cautious, but very interested. And so Marie becomes involved i
Karen (idleutopia_reads)
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Immersing myself into the world of American Spy was an experience unlike any other. It was thrilling from beginning to end. I loved the tapestry of words that Lauren Wilkinson created. She had me hooked from the beginning with her story of a suburban mom who one night gets attacked in her own home and kills the intruder. So begins a story that takes us towards an escape and flashes back to tell the story of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s pulled into an intricate web ...more
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
DNF at 20%. I wanted to love this--the blurb sounds amazing--but I was too bored by the time I quit to have patience to get to the actual story. There was too much time spent on the main character's childhood and early life, and no real plot had yet emerged.

I DNF ruthlessly and usually don't have a lot of patience for books that don't suck me in pretty quickly, but based on other reviews it seems likely this book will be rewarding for readers who are more patient than I am.

*I received a free AR
Heather Fineisen
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Centers on the backstory of a black female spy and how she ended up in the present time with a threat to her and her twin boys. The book is really strong and well written until the end when action gets lively but the storyline putters. This is a debut author to keep an eye on.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
Julie Christine
After fending off an attempted assassination, former FBI agent Marie Mitchell flees with her young twin sons to the Caribbean island of Martinique, where her mother lives. She begins a letter to her boys, "I'm writing this to give you honest answers to the questions I hazard to guess you'll ask while you're growing up. I'm writing it all down here just in case I'm not around to tell you."

The letter takes the reader back through time to chronicle Marie's childhood in Harlem, her career as a Fed
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A different kind of spy story—light on suspense, thanks in part to a choppy timeline, but with an interesting story of an African-American woman coming to terms with her family background and her career choices. Not everything works, but this debut novel shows an author worth watching. Rounding up from 3.5 stars.
Rachel | mrs.bennett.reads
I'll start by saying that this book wasn't great. I wanted it to be, but it was not. However, it gets 3 stars for me for some really refreshing originality.

One of the reasons I was so excited to pick this book up in the first place is the unique premise. It's the 1980s, and Marie is a black female FBI agent with a troubled past and big ambition. She's not really getting anywhere in her FBI career and ends up working for the CIA in Africa, trying to de-stabilize an authoritarian, Communist gover
Nadine Jones
While her gift for secrecy put distance between us, it also taught me the value of intelligence: I learned that a secret is power, that power in application is force, that force is strength, and strength advantage.

This was amazing! Ten stars!!

Framed as a mother's (very long) confessional letter to her two young sons, this story spans decades and generations and borders. It hooked me right away from the very first line:
I unlocked the safe beneath my desk, grabbed my old service automatic, and
Taryn Pierson
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve never gotten into spy novels because I don’t really want more alpha white male energy in my life, but THIS spy novel is about a black woman working undercover in the 1980s! Now that I can get behind. Marie is sent to Burkina Faso to undermine the Communist leader Thomas Sankara, but her goals get clouded when she gets to know the man behind the image. The book is written as a letter to her children, which is a really effective device, and I swear I couldn’t tell from one page to the next wh ...more
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I feel like I was sold a 6 for a 9. This book has been marketed as a thriller/mystery. It's not. It's closer to historical fiction and I definitely feel that the marketing influenced my final opinion.

The story feels like a diary entry, which it kinda is, but this is no something I was aware of going in. I found myself skipping over parts because I just wanted it to be over. The novel feels more introspective than action or plot driven. While I love a character driven story this one feels, unpol
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had to binge-read this book when someone else put a hold on it, and I'm grateful for that. I absolutely loved this book. This is a character-driven story of a woman in the FBI, starting out when she escapes an intruder in her home and flees to her mother's home in Martinique with her young twin sons. It tells her backstory and relationship with her family, how she started in the FBI, and then ultimately leads her to an opportunity in Burkina Faso. This section of the book is based in fact, and ...more
I really like the way Marie thinks, how she tries to take care of herself. She's working through her past traumas and she's always analyzing people and their motivations. Obviously I love the intersectionality of her experience as a Black woman FBI agent, how she was always up against someone or some institution. Also, there's a whole lot of questioning -- about duty, identity, morality, the people in power -- that I really liked to see in a book about a federal employee. I also really like how ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. As promised, this is a spy novel driven less by plot and more by character. It's unique and interesting and I want so many more books like it in the world.

For this specific story and me, we didn't quite see eye to eye because I wanted *more* character. I wanted to get deeper into who Marie was and how she felt. But I'll be looking for more from Wilkinson.
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Misleading synopsis, but the story we did get was pretty good. Not the action packed thriller I was expecting. More of a memoir.
Paige Shelton
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will give any spy book a shot - however, I'm usually disappointed and put most of them back down quickly. Not this one. Really liked the way it was written.
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a stunning debut novel. Marie hears a creak in the middle of the night and is instantly on alert. Her sons are asleep down the hallway. When the would be killer breaks into her room, she is ready for him. Marie has spent much of her FBI training in NYC, a black woman kept away from the table by the boys club that runs the office. So she jumps at the chance to go undercover and retrieve information from the charismatic dictator of a small African country. Wilkinson's tightly constructed s ...more
Sarah Tittle
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rounding up from 3.5 stars.

This is not my genre, so I'm not sure how it stacks up against the competition, but I found this narrator's p.o.v. really refreshing. I get the idea that there's this trope of a spy whose only allegiance is to their own self-interests, so the fact that Marie is, ultimately, motivated by love, feels different in a good way to me. I also like that Wilkinson exposes the misogyny/racism in all sorts of systems--police force, FBI, CIA. And finally, how many novels teach you
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Play Book Tag: American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson -3 1/2stars rounded up 5 20 Mar 15, 2019 10:07PM  
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Lauren Wilkinson earned an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University, and has taught writing at Columbia and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was a 2013 Center for Fiction Emerging Writer’s Fellow, and has also received support from the MacDowell Colony and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Lauren grew up in New York and lives on the Lower East Side. American Sp ...more
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“The first few moments after you meet someone are precious, because the data on them is plentiful and your own subjectivity has yet to interfere.” 4 likes
“I don’t like to say what I’ve read. That’s how you disclose the most about yourself.” 1 likes
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