After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s part of the secret resistance against the Third Reich, and he needs Sarah to hide in plain sight at a school for the daughters of top Nazi brass, posing as one of them. If she can befriend the daughter of a key scientist and get invited to her house, she might be able to steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. Nothing could prepare Sarah for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined. But anyone who underestimates this innocent-seeming girl does so at their peril. She may look sweet, but she’s the Nazis’ worst nightmare.
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to read the blurb for Orphan Monster Spy. Everything about this appealed to me, and when Lime sent the ARC I was practically chasing my tail! From the start, the book was full on, straight into the story at full tilt, and pretty much this carried on for the entirety.
Sarah is an engaging and very sympathetic character, she’s 15 but looks 11, she has a gift for languages and music, and was gymnast before being Jewish stopped all that. She and her mother, who has slunk into alcoholism after being abandoned by Sarah’s non Jewish (and assumed married) father, flee their home but Sarah’s mother gets killed at a checkpoint. Sarah then becomes involved with ‘Herr Haller’ a man with an interesting accent who also is known as Capt. Floyd a British spy. With no family or friends or place to go, Sarah hitches her star with him, and becomes a spy.
Sarah’s task is to befriend the daughter of a scientist working on a deadly bomb and to do so she must play the part of Ursula a Nazi girl, and go to boarding school.
Sarah goes through some very terrible things, as this was an awful time. The worst of it here isn’t her being persecuted for being Jewish, though being small and “different” at boarding school is also enough to make you stand out, and she does.
Sarah’s struggle to balance her fierce ideas of honesty and loyalty with the need to align herself with girls who are frankly terrifying bullies is wonderful to read, and for me the strongest aspect of the book. For an adult this would be a challenge, but Sarah shows such strength of will that I was in awe of her. Her ability to observe, assimilate and evolve throughout the book are impressive.
There are many good other characters here as well, the Mouse, a girl spying for another reason, The Ice Queen aka the leader of the pack – an utterly terrifying girl. Elsa, damaged and brave and Capt Flynn both hero and villain. But this is Sarah’s book throughout. Told in the present, in flash back and with an inner monologue made of her mother’s voice as well as her own the story is incredibly gripping.
As I read as I felt in many ways that I was in a film script, and I could see that this would make a very gripping film. And that for me was also why I didn’t love this book, it was a little too televisual for my taste. However, it was exciting, well written and well researched. The book is aimed at 14+ readers, and I’m sure that they will really enjoy it.