Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

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A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.

Sarah has played many roles – but now she faces her most challenging of all. Because there’s only one way for a Jewish orphan spy to survive at a school for the Nazi elite. And that’s to become a monster like them.

Survive. Deceive. Resist.

They think she is just a little girl. But she is the weapon they never saw coming… with a mission to destroy them all.

“History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason”- Lord Macaualy.

I was drawn to this book as soon as I read the author’s letter that came with the review copy I was sent by Usborne. Matt Killeen stresses the importance of history in our society in light of the times we’re living in. How many of us would like to think we would have protected jews during the war? Are we standing up for those who are being persecuted today?

This is a terrifying book; intense, disturbingly violent and eye-opening. I couldn’t put it down.

Fifteen-year-old jew Sarah finds herself working as a spy in Nazi Germany in the build-up to WWII. Her task is to infiltrate a prestigious school for Nazi girls to get an invitation to the house of one of her classmates, in order to help sabotage the terrible weapon her father is creating. This book contains starvation, brutal nazi girls, paedophiles and murderous parents…all acting in the name of ‘The Reich’.

Thanks to her actress mother, Sarah is used to playing different roles, but now she must become one of her tormentors. She’s a little girl who goes to terrifying lengths to survive and to stay sane, navigating the traps set for her and overcoming the efforts to destroy her.

Despite her strength, we’re always aware of her youth and how gruelling and skin-crawling her task really is. Using her training as a gymnast and dancer to ‘commit to the move’, Sarah makes for an admirable character- tough and witty but with an enormous sense of justice and love. The character development, especially of Sarah, the British spy and their relationship, felt authentic.

Killeen’s writing is beautifully evocative. The descriptions, especially of food and characters, are striking.

“He was not comfortably plump or slightly overfed, not jolly, round or chubby as some people can be, but excruciatingly bulbous. It was a fatness that looked like it came from a deliberate, sustained and highly disciplined over-consumption that had no hint of pleasure in it. The increasing sense of hunger that had been a feature of the last few years yawned to life inside Sarah and she knew instantly that she loathed this man.”

“She put her hands around the scalding cup and raised it to her lips, letting the warm updraft touch her face. Her nose brushed through the froth, but it gave like soap suds and vanished, popping in a million tiny crackles. The rich, dark liquid flowed through it and cooled as it tore the bubbles apart and slid into her mouth. Both sweet and bitter, sharp and comforting, invigorating and calming like strong arms carrying you through a storm.”

The pages are also peppered with shorter, snappier sentences that build the tension and show Sarah’s fast-thinking and survival instinct. There were just a couple of instances where I found myself skimming over the flowery writing as I was excited to get to the action, but this was rare. The story is full of plot twists and danger- especially towards the end- and had me on the edge of my seat throughout.

Katherine Locke has commended the historical accuracy of Orphan Monster Spy on Twitter, saying that the British spy Sarah works for  ‘is not perfect, or flawless, and he’s no hero, really, the way Allied forces are often portrayed.’

She praises the fact that ‘… ON THE PAGE, it’s acknowledged that it does not matter that [Sarah] is only half Jewish, that she’s never been to synagogue, that she’s not religious, and that she’s Aryan-passing. She. Would. Still. Be. Killed. For. Being. Jewish.’

Sarah never stops being aware that people are dying and her driving force is to work towards the effort of preventing this. She’s only Jewish by birth, yet ‘she does not ignore the plight of other Jews, even though she has no community connection to them. She is a girl who grew up, was given a label, and the label killed her mother and put her life in danger. She is aware of it on every. single. page.’

Read this book, and then think about the Rwandan Genocide, the attacks on Syrian immigrants and Muslims, police violence against black people, the deportation of US and UK citizens and the degradation of people from ‘shit-hole countries‘. Seem familiar?

This novel serves as a warning against allowing history to repeat itself and as a reminder that we can and must prevent that, whether we have ‘community connection’ to those being persecuted or not.

“We are, right now, looking at the conditions that created the Third Reich and all it will take, to paraphrase Burke, is for good people to do nothing.” – Matt Killeen.

A must-read for teens and adults alike, Orphan Monster Spy will be published by Usborne in March 2018.

*Quotations taken from a proof copy of Orphan Monster Spy and may be subject to change.

 

Five Books for Fans of Philip Pullman

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Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

A steampunk adventure which takes place in an alternate version of Victorian London beneath a sky filled with steam-powered airships, the setting of this novel reminds us of Lyra’s Oxford from the His Dark Materials series. Mechanical people, friends that run on clockwork and a brave, female heroine are all reminiscent of Pullman’s Clockwork. Peter Bunzl shares in Pullman’s talent for creating despicable villains!

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

A tree that thrives on lies and a determined heroine constantly repressed for being young and female. This book reminded me of Lyra Belacqua and her truth-telling alethiometre in her battle against the oppressive and sexist Magisterium. Faith’s thirst for knowledge and passion for natural science recall the academia of Jordan College

The Huntress: Sea by Sarah Driver

Mouse’s icy cold, perilous adventure is similar to the one Lyra embarks on when she journeys North to rescue the children taken by the Gobblers in His Dark Materials. The delicious description of fur cloaks, golden eggs and heavy wooden treasure chests evoke the golden-coloured Tokay wine and the Sky-iron armour used by the Armoured Bears in Pullman’s series.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

This eerie, dreamlike story is rich in mining history and is haunted by the ghosts of children who perished underground. The characters’ fascination with death and those who have left the living world remind us of Lyra’s visit to the world of the dead. Just like Pullman’s writing, this story can be incredibly dark until suddenly the light shines through.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This is the first in a series that emits the same magic as many of Pullman’s works and follows the main characters as they travel between different worlds. The innocent love story between Meggie and Farid and the eventual, subtle hints at a sexual awakening are similar to the relationship shared by Lyra and Will.