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Book Review

Maximum Security by Robert Muchamore has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third 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, age 13, and Lauren, age 10, are siblings. They’re also spies for a top-secret British Intelligence organization called CHERUB. CHERUB was formed in 1941 when British operatives realized children could discover Nazi secrets without arousing suspicion. Since that time, CHERUB has used handpicked, highly trained orphans, ages 10 to 17, to bring down criminal operations such as drug rings and terrorist groups.

It’s been more than a year since James and Lauren’s mum, who ran a shoplifting ring from their home, died from a mixture of alcohol and painkillers. James has completed 100 days of basic training and participated in two successful missions. Lauren failed her first round of basic training. This story begins on the final day of her second attempt.

Lauren successfully completes basic training. Even though she’s had little time to recover, James recommends her for a mission he and an older boy, Dave, will be undertaking. James and Dave will infiltrate an Arizona maximum-security prison posing as young offenders. They’re tasked with befriending another young inmate, Curtis. CHERUB officers believe Curtis is the son of a powerful weapons trafficker named Jane Oxford. The boys will help Curtis escape so they can locate Jane and stop her from dealing weapons to enemy nations. Lauren will aid in the escape by driving the getaway car.

Dave and James are housed in a dorm-like prison block with 30 juvenile offenders. Approximately 300 young men under 18 reside in this wing of the prison. Dave and James observe that the Latinos and skinheads are bitter rivals, while weaker boys without gang affiliations receive frequent bullying.

Early in their stay, two brothers attack Dave and James. Using their CHERUB skills, they injure the bullies and send them to the infirmary. Dave is sent to solitary for fighting. Since an injury he received worsens, CHERUB leaders decide to pull him out of the mission to get him medical help.

They offer to pull James, too, but James recognizes some of the inroads he’s made may be helpful. He’s managed to earn the respect of the skinhead gang, of which Curtis is a part. He’s also started developing a friendship with Curtis and has mentioned plans to escape. James decides to stay, and he continues to talk to Curtis about his escape strategy. Curtis says if James will take him, his mother will help them start over outside of prison.

With the aid of adult CHERUB officers posing as prison employees, James and Curtis escape. Lauren drives the getaway car, and the kids head north from Arizona to California. They hide out when they learn police have set up roadblocks. They pay a woman several thousand dollars to pose as their mother and drive them through the barricade.

The kids decide to drive north and meet with some of Jane’s employees in Idaho. James, Curtis and Lauren stay with a family for several weeks and develop warm feelings for them. James also has a number of make-out sessions with their daughter, Becky. After Jane feels enough time has passed, she sends for Curtis. The family tells James and Lauren they’ll be adopted by a nice family in Canada. But soon afterward, another of Jane’s henchmen tries to kill Lauren.

Lauren and James help the adult CHERUB operatives follow Curtis and his handler. When Curtis meets up with Jane at a hotel in Oregon, CHERUB officers arrest them. Although Curtis returns to jail, he gets psychiatric help for his mental health issues. James and Lauren return to headquarters, where James is happy to see his girlfriend, Kerry.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Adult CHERUB operatives follow the children closely but still allow them a lot of freedom. Curtis’ mother tries to keep him from being recaptured by moving him around before reuniting with him. Jane’s hired family in Idaho makes the kids feel so comfortable and cared for, they wish they could stay.


The Lord’s name is used in vain frequently, in various forms. Words including h---, s---, d--n, tit, b--ch, queer, faggot, p---y, a-- (and its British counterpart, arse), prick, d--k, p---, balls, crap and wog (a British derogatory term for a non-white person) occur frequently.

Lauren says being a boy and having a penis would make basic training easier. James calls someone a retard. James says he hopes Jane Oxford burns in h---.

The text vividly describes James being strip searched upon his entry into the prison. A number of violent fights and acts of torture and bullying take place between the young inmates. Kids get beaten up, pepper sprayed and burned by others.

James confesses that the raw nastiness of the skinhead gang brings out perverse feelings of power and glamor in him. The skinhead leader tells stories of people he’s stabbed, tortured, covered in boiling water and bullied so badly they wanted to kill themselves. James has to knock out an adult CHERUB agent and a female prison guard to make the escape seem realistic.


Kyle is an operative, and he is gay. James feels uncomfortable about it. Kyle jokingly puts his hand on James’ bottom in the locker room. James is embarrassed in front of the other boys and tries to save face by kissing Kyle on the cheek to embarrass him.

Lauren mentions a female instructor who is “butch.” The CHERUB students think David is cool because he always has the hottest girlfriends. The rumor that he got one of them pregnant actually makes the boys more in awe of him, though they pretend to be appalled. He and James later joke about David getting the girl pregnant.

Lauren is disgusted and calls them sexist pigs. Curtis mentions that the censors at the prison allow books as long as they don’t teach explosive-making and aren’t pornographic.

While the kids are staying with a family hired by Jane Oxford, James frequently snogs (makes out with) Becky. Lauren chastises him for cheating on his girlfriend, Kerry, who is back at CHERUB headquarters. She makes him swear on their mother’s grave that he will stop carrying on with Becky. He swears, but he later makes out with Becky again.

When he returns to headquarters, James shares a long kiss with Kerry and notices her breasts have grown after returning from his mission. James panics when he thinks Kerry has found out about him and Becky. He’s relieved when she’s only teasing him about the time he kissed Kyle.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Crime: Kyle makes money by burning and selling pirated DVDs to other students. Curtis goes to jail for robbing a liquor store, shooting three people to death, stealing their Jaguar and driving drunk.

Suicide: After Curtis’ crime spree, he tries to shoot himself. The gun jams. He tries again when he, James and Lauren are on the run. After he’s recaptured, Curtis receives treatment in prison for his mental instability.

Alcohol: Curtis drives drunk. He also consumes alcohol from the hotel fridge as soon as the adults are out of earshot.

Lying/Deception: When James and another CHERUB get into a fight with kids at the bowling alley, they and their teammates make up a story to tell Mac about how it happened. James keeps his relationship with Becky from his CHERUB girlfriend, Kerry. Most of the characters, heroes and villains alike, create elaborate lies and deceptions to accomplish their goals.

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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

12 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 2005; the edition reviewed was published in 2011.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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