Killeen, Matt. Orphan Monster Spy. Viking, 2018. 410 pgs. $18.99. ISBN 9780451478733. Ages 12+. P7Q8.
Sarah, a teenage Jew without papers, family or friends, finds herself in serious trouble after her mother is shot at a checkpoint in Germany in 1939. In helping a man she meets, she finds herself safe for a while. The man she eventually calls The Captain is a British spy, and Sarah agrees to help him by going undercover at a Nazi boarding school to get information about the father of another student. The story is told with flashbacks of her relationship with her troubled and alcoholic actress mother, who trained Sarah in acting, languages, and deception. Sarah, now called Ursula, infiltrates the school and finds most of the other students and the staff to be cruel, vindictive, and power hungry. In order to gain the trust of the lead girls, she has to prove herself- that she is smart, tough, and devious- a perfect little Nazi. Mental “conversations” with her mother are a regular and helpful tool for Ursula- they guide her through dangerous and difficult situations. The book is filled with violence and cruelty- Ursula is beaten badly by a teacher, another student tries to kill her, she witnesses shootings, is nearly killed in an explosion, comes close to being sexually abused by an adult,… I found her character to be a bit cold and strange (which might not be unrealistic, given the way she grew up), but on the other hand, she is tenacious, smart, and self-controlled. There is a lot of German vocabulary throughout the book. An English definition is usually positioned nearby, so understanding won’t be a problem for readers. I think modern teen readers will find this book interesting- there is a lot of information about the early part of WWII, and it was really interesting to view that time through the eyes of a teenage spiy. A lot of teens will also identify with Sarah’s difficulties with her mother- she basically acted as a caretaker for her as alcoholism took over her life.
VERDICT: Teen readers who like a fast-paced, exciting story, with a clearly defined good vs. evil theme will enjoy this book.
June 2018 review by Carol Schramm.