By Cynthia Ayala
“After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah–blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish–finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s a spy, and he needs Sarah to become one, too, to pull off a mission he can’t attempt on his own: infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. With years of training from her actress mother in the art of impersonation, Sarah thinks she’s ready. But nothing prepares her for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined.” —Goodreads
Incredible and disturbing. World War II is such a hot topic, especially in today’s political climate, but that’s all the more reason literature such as this is important because once people forget history they are doomed to repeat it. This book captures history at it’s worst, it captures those grievances and pain with such accuracy that it does history justice and makes for such a compelling read. But there’s also a perseverance in the novel captured by the powerful characterization of Sarah. Killeen does such an incredible time of capturing the struggle and pain that the young especially had to endure.
Killeen does an incredible job of capturing the injustices in this time, especially through the young eyes of Sarah. She’s a slight girl who looks younger than she is, a gymnast, blond and blue eye with her only “failing” being that she’s Jewish. With her mother gunned down while they were on the run, Sarah goes on the run and fate brings her to a spy working against the Nazi. Together they plan and enroll Sarah in a school to befriend another girl who is the daughter of their target, someone working on a bomb of immense power. It’s such a thrilling and tension driven novel, but also jaw-dropping. There’s such cruelty in the novel, and it’s powerful because of the truth of it, the realistic and believability of it all. That’s what makes it such a compelling read, the believability of it all.
This is definitely a harsh novel, there’s so much brutality in it, because kids, well, children are sometimes the cruelest of people even if they are at times the kindest of people. But in this era, where fear controlled many, and the Third Reich brainwashed people many others while encouraging cruelty, some children were especially cruel so that they didn’t appear weak. This novel capitalizes on that without falling into a trap of being simply dramatic for the sake of it. The bullying serves a purpose in the storytelling of the novel, it captures the intensity of this time through the eyes of the young.
Orphan Monster Spy is a brilliant novel. It is tension driven, cold, and mesmerizing. The story keeps the reader at the edge of their seats because it’s so dark and compelling. This is a dark thriller that has such a strong main character and even stronger sense of perseverance. The essence of the novel is that evil happens in the world, but even when it feels like it is going to swallow up everything, fighting against it makes all the difference, maintaining hope despite the injustices in the world, Killen presents readers with a powerful message through this text, and that makes it incredible to read. (★★★★☆ | A)