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Book Review

The Recruit by Robert Muchamore has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “CHERUB” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

James Choke, almost 12, lives with his younger half-sister, Lauren, and their morbidly obese mother. Mum runs a profitable business helping thieves sell their stolen, high-end goods. She’s still married to Lauren’s father, Ron, who no longer lives with them. He visits when he’s low on money. Mum and Ron usually get drunk together, even though Mum isn’t supposed to mix alcohol with her painkillers.

A female classmate comments on Mum’s weight one too many times, and James pushes her against the wall. Her face catches on a nail, leaving a bloody gash. James runs from the school and wanders around to think. When he finally goes home, he sees Mum’s answering machine is full. She and Ron are drunk, and she hasn’t heard the school’s messages.

James finds Mum dead from her drug and alcohol use later that night. James takes a large sum of money from Mum’s safe before Ron can crack the code. James and Lauren are sent to a children’s home, but then Lauren is placed with Ron, who she doesn't like.

James remains at the children’s home. He initially spends time with his roommate, Kyle, until a group of older boys invites him to join in their illegal antics. Just after James has received a police warning for injuring the girl at his old school, his thug friends pressure him into stealing beer from a liquor store. He has the beer in hand, but the boys hold the door closed so he can’t get out. The shop owner calls the police, who interrogate James at the station.

James wakes up naked in a strange bed, and he doesn't know how he arrived there. The room is like a fancy hotel, and someone has left new clothes for him. The bright orange t-shirt says “CHERUB.”

Dr. McAfferty (Mac) summons James to his office and welcomes him to the CHERUB campus. He explains that CHERUB is a secret organization comprised of highly trained kids who work for British Intelligence. He says kids make excellent spies because no one suspects them. James’s therapist and Kyle, who is actually an undercover CHERUB agent, have recommended James for the program.

Mac shows James around and explains the rigorous training involved in joining this elite force. Then James is tested. Eventually Mac invites him to join CHERUB. James likes the facility and feels he has nothing to lose.

Prior to James’s 100 days of basic training, he begins some physical drills. Since he can’t swim, one of his greatest challenges is overcoming his fear of water. A 16-year-old CHERUB named Amy trains him. James is pleased to learn Lauren has been removed from Ron’s care and invited to join CHERUB as well. Basic training is brutal, emotionally and physically. James gets off to a bad start with his 11-year-old partner, Kerry, but eventually sees her as an asset, friend and potential romantic interest.

After basic training, James is given a mission alongside Amy. The two pose as siblings visiting their aunt at a hippie camp called Fort Harmony. The government suspects some of the hippies are working with an extremist group called Help Earth. A nearby resort is planning a conference that police fear Help Earth may target. Amy and James befriend the other children at Fort Harmony and search for information. James falls for a girl named Joanna who sometimes visits Fort Harmony.

James finds the hippies’ secret workshop and is exposed to what his handlers fear is Anthrax. CHERUB leaders rescue him and Amy. James undergoes miserable treatments until they are certain his life is not in danger. The evidence the kids find helps police capture two of the three Help Earth suspects before lives are lost at the conference. Mac applauds James and awards him a navy CHERUB shirt, meaning he has advanced in the ranks. Police shut down Ft. Harmony for good. James starts to train for his next mission.

Christian Beliefs

After James hits his classmate, he thinks about God. He isn’t sure God exists, but he doesn’t see how everything could be here without someone making it. He prays in the shower that God will help him become a better person and that he won’t be killed by his classmate’s brother. One basic training instructor tauntingly asks the recruits how they should celebrate Christmas these 2003 years after the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He proceeds to make them work the whole day.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Mum makes a good living by helping thieves sell their stolen goods. She and Lauren’s father, Ron, often get drunk together. Ron is verbally abusive to James and comes around for money because he can’t hold a job. Trainers at CHERUB push James and his classmates to succeed in basic training. CHERUB kids receive a great deal of autonomy from their handlers despite their young ages.


The Lord’s name is used in vain often and in various forms. Words like s---, a-- (and arse), b--ch, h---, p---, d--k, nuts, balls, suck and crap also appear regularly. James refers to Ron as a retard, and a classmate calls James a f-ggot. Someone calls James a pervert when they find him in the girls’ changing room. James and his male friends try to impress female recruits by pulling down their pants and urinating in the bushes.

James pushes a female classmate into a wall. She hits a nail, leaving her face gashed and bloody. A young CHERUB agent dislocates James’ thumb while they’re sparring in martial arts. It cracks out of place, and a CHERUB crunches the bone back into alignment.

Boys at Fort Harmony torture a bird. Kyle mentions a mean kid in a foster home who broke a younger child’s back, leaving him permanently wheelchair bound. James purposely steps hard on Kerry’s hand to injure it. James’ case file mentions police officers beating a boy at Fort Harmony and leaving him permanently brain damaged.

Help Earth is an extremist group that plots to kill the opposition using chemical weapons.


The rough kids at James’ children’s home have girlie magazines and knives. Kyle wears a T-shirt with a porn-star logo. Older, drunk girls at Amy’s party tickle and kiss James and leave lipstick marks. Kids drink and make out at a Fort Harmony party. Joanna shoves James against a tree and puts her hands in his back pockets while kissing him. James sometimes showers at Joanna’s house, and they make out on her bed.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Crime: Mum runs a shoplifting empire. Ron and James both steal money from her. Kyle tells James he stole an expensive pair of shorts.

Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking: Mum and Ron frequently get drunk together. The combination of alcohol and Mum’s painkillers for a leg ulcer are thought to have killed her. Older kids give James alcohol at Amy’s birthday party because it’s always a laugh to get younger kids drunk. James vomits a lot that night and has a hangover the next day. Leaders get drunk on CHERUB’s vacation trip. James’ adult counselor offers him a cigarette. He declines then and at the children’s home when other kids offer him cigarettes. Kids have cigarettes at Amy’s party. James tries a cigarette when Joanna offers him one.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Robert Muchamore






Record Label



Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Originally published in 2004, this edition was published in 2010.


On Video

Year Published



Salford Children’s Book Award, 2005; Sakura Medal, 2007 and others


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