Blog Tour: Matt Killeen|Orphan Monster Spy|In Celebration of Female Heroes

ORPHAN MONSTER SPY BLOG TOUR GRAPHIC

I’m pleased to be taking part in Matt Killeen’s blog tour, in which he shares with us his female heroes, both real and fictional. Matt is the author of Orphan Monster Spy, which I reviewed here.


Rebecca “Newt” Jorden from Aliens

James Cameron’s Aliens dominated my adolescence and remains one of my favourite movies, a terrifying roller-coaster piece of action that is almost perfect in its execution. To say it has influenced me would be an understatement – I spent a year or more making a living role-playing a character that crossed Apone and Full Metal Jacket’s drill-sergeant. While it did not invent the strong heroine trope, it is probably the piece of media that made it most famous. Watching Ripley turn to the opening lift doors, armed to the teeth and ready for action with a look of determined terror in her eyes, is one of cinema’s great moments. However, there are several aspects and subtexts that make Ripley a problematic figure, in a film that struggles with its feminist identity. For example, the faithless mother seeking redemption, becomes the soldier that the marines were not. It’s all very kick-ass but in a symbolically male fashion.

Therefore, my feminist heroine of choice here is Newt, the six-year-old lone survivor of the doomed colony of LV-426. Her family and community became victims of a powerful horror and it transpires, a terrible crime. This has happened for reasons entirely beyond her responsibility, yet she has not allowed herself to join them as a victim.

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When she is found by Ripley and the marines, she has evaded some 150 aliens by using the ventilation shafts for many weeks, a constantly defensive and non-violent tactic that relied on her own cunning and intelligence. Newt’s resilience is astounding. While clearly traumatised and damaged by her experiences, she remained and remains functional while other adults cannot. She has simply refused to give up.

She also has maintained her humanity as best she can. In addition to the necessary rations, she has gathered pretty things to decorate her ventilation shaft home, presumably at some risk. Clinging to her awards for service to the colony that no longer exists, because they are part of her identity, she also holds onto her humour, saluting Hudson and reminding Ripley that her doll is really just a piece of plastic. Most remarkable is her willingness to remain vulnerable. She takes a chance on Ripley, when her rational mind warns her otherwise, because she is brave enough to gamble on a normal life. Her only wish is sleep without nightmares.

Newt is, like most great women, also correct about pretty much everything. The soldiers did not make any difference, there are monsters and they mostly come out at night. Mostly.

The actress, Carrie Henn, was untrained, inexperienced and barely ten years old when she played Newt, coached to a stunning performance of great precocity by Cynthia Scott, who played Corporal Dietrich alongside her. Like her on-screen self, Carrie took a path of self-preservation by walking away from what would have been an instant career in Hollywood to forge a life entirely on her own terms. She reminds us that personal choice is an essential feminist act.


Thanks for sharing, Matt!

You can follow Matt on Twitter here. The next stop on the tour will be The Ya’s Nightstand.

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.

 

5 Books to Help Teens Understand Current World Issues

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

In this story of white privilege reversal, where whites are victims of racism and blacks are considered the superior race, Malorie Blackman puts a thought provoking spin on racism and prejudice. The protagonists face violence, oppression and bitter injustice in a society that highlights the constant discrimination that goes on in our own.  A powerful, complex story, it embodies compassion and the importance of fighting for what is right: equality for all human beings.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling

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Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him

In the final book in this well-loved series, the government is being controlled by an evil dictator. Sound familiar? In the wizarding world, muggles are crunched underfoot and muggle-born wizards and witches are accused of stealing their magic. Voldemort is “purifying” society, attacking and dehumanizing a group of humans for their birth and origins. Under these terrifying circumstances, Harry, Ron and Hermione must show courage, loyalty and mercy to triumph over evil once and for all.  The need to stand together against oppression is greater than ever before.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 

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Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

The diary of a young Jewish girl living in hiding during the Second World War, this book is a real life account of the terror, poor quality of life and tragic consequences met by millions of Jews at the hands of one racist man. A priceless contribution to history, it highlights the destructive effects of racism, bigotry and xenophobia and the fact that everyone should have a right to freedom.

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

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Twelve-year-old Omar and his brothers and sisters were born and raised in the beautiful and bustling city of Bosra, Syria. Omar doesn’t care about politics – all he wants is to grow up to become a successful businessman who will take the world by storm. But when his clever older brother, Musa, gets mixed up with some young political activists, everything changes . . .

Before long, bombs are falling, people are dying, and Omar and his family have no choice but to flee their home with only what they can carry. Yet no matter how far they run, the shadow of war follows them – until they have no other choice than to attempt the dangerous journey to escape their homeland altogether. But where do you go when you can’t go home?

This story gives an insight into lives of Syrians and refugees of today, regarded by so many as the enemy. Written to help children understand the refugee crisis and empathise with the situation of its victims, it portrays the desperate struggle to survive when war is on your doorstep, with themes such as discrimination against women and people with disabilities woven throughout. With so much confusion about the situation in Syria and the arrival and rejection of refugees, books like this are so important.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

This novel is set in a world in which women have been stripped of all rights, including the right to read, and are only needed for reproduction. Religious and sexual freedom are non-existent and a theocratic government imposes its own rules. This dystopia is a little too close for comfort with the growing sexualisation and objectification of women in today’s society, where “locker room talk” is justified and rape culture is rife. Eye-opening and scary.

Can you suggest any books to add to this list?