Thursday, March 22, 2018

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Master Spy starts out with a bang. 15-year-old Sarah emerges from the floor of her mother's car to find that her mother has been shot dead at a checkpoint in Germany. Will the Nazis know to look for a child? She's not sticking around to find out.

It's 1939 and Sarah is an orphan, half-Jewish, and on the run. But, Sarah has a few marks in her favor. She is physically adept (a former gymnast), smart as a whip, and blonde with blue eyes. She's small for her age, which means she can get away with pretending she's as young as 11 or 12. And, her Aryan features mean she can hide in plain sight if she can find a way to obtain false papers. After a night sleeping on a roof to evade the Nazis, she finds a friend. But, his life is in danger, as well.

When Sarah offers to help out with an important mission, it means going where the worst of her enemies live, inside a Nazi girls' boarding school where she is tasked with befriending the daughter of a scientist who has created a devastating bomb the size of a grapefruit. Can Sarah survive school and befriend Elsa in time to save the world from this bomb? Sarah finds the task is even more challenging than she'd imagined. She's is naturally a bit caustic and her sharp intellect can get her in trouble. Making friends is not easy. She's already a fish out of water and there's a social hierarchy at the boarding school. The only way to befriend Elsa is for Sarah to make her way to the top tier.

Highly recommended - Smart, scary, tense and gripping - a terrific read with the kind of disturbing, violent moments that are typical of realistic WWII novels. Sarah is fierce but flawed, a tough and witty character whom you can really get behind; and, the English captain she befriends has clearly also lived through a lot. I liked hanging out with them in the first part of the book. But, then comes the really scary part.

Life at a Nazi boarding school is insane. I can admit I found the boarding school parts much more uncomfortable to read, although Sarah is befriended by another girl who doesn't quite fit in (so, at least she always has one friend to rely on) and there are plenty of action scenes. The hardest part is the bullying and some vicious scenes of violent abuse. The girls are rough on each other, with an initiation for the new students and competition to get into the favored group. Will Sarah succeed at befriending Elsa? Will she get caught out as a spy? Will she survive the brutality of the girls she lives with and their teachers? Orphan Monster Spy had a slight sagging middle problem but the phenomenal ending is worth sticking it out. I never even remotely considered setting the book aside. Sarah's a terrific character and I cared about her. The reward for sticking out the slower part is immense.

The ending hints at continuation of Sarah's story, so I wrote to the publicist to ask if Orphan Monster Spy is a series book and she confirmed that it is, indeed, the first in a series. It's wrapped up completely and could stand on its own, though: no cliffhanger ending. I'm grateful to the author for that (I abhor cliffhangers). I'll be looking forward to reading more of Sarah's adventures.

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  1. I’ve seen this one around but this is the first time I’ve read what it was about. It sounds very intense. I can’t even imagine how it’s slow sometimes. I’ll have to check it out.

    1. Orphan Monster Spy is definitely pretty intense but it's plotted so that it has peaks and valleys in the intensity level, which is good, in general. It would probably be exhausting if the story stayed intense all the time. It's an excellent read and I'm sure the wait for the next book is going to feel eternal. But, I'm excited to find that there will be more adventures with Sarah.


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