Fic­tion

Orphan Mon­ster Spy

Matt Killeen
  • Review
By – May 7, 2018

In this Anna and the Swal­low Man–meets–Code Name Ver­i­ty nar­ra­tive, Matt Killeen cre­ates believ­able ten­sion that will keep read­ers turn­ing the page. At the end of August 1939, fif­teen-year-old Sarah climbs out of her mother’s wrecked vehi­cle near the Ger­man-Swiss bor­der. Her moth­er is dead, killed by gun­fire. Sarah, a gym­nast used to for­ag­ing for food as a Jew in Ger­many, takes to the rooftops until she meets and forms an alliance with Hel­mut Haller, the alias for a British spy work­ing under­cov­er as a busi­ness­man. He gives her the mis­sion of befriend­ing the daugh­ter of a Ger­man sci­en­tist work­ing on a bomb.

Under the name Ursu­la Haller, Sarah matric­u­lates at a Nazi girls’ school. There, she uses her street smarts to over­come the tri­als she is expect­ed to endure by her school­mates, teach­ers, and the local SS. When Hel­mut is shot, she escapes from the school to care for him. Even­tu­al­ly, she is invit­ed to the scientist’s mas­sive estate, only to learn he has oth­er secrets besides the bomb.

While there is a bit too much Ger­man lan­guage, which is not always explained and may go over the heads of young adult read­ers, the sto­ry siz­zles with bril­liant plot­ting and snap­py dia­logue. Killeen intro­duces com­plex char­ac­ters; every­one has secrets. The deprav­i­ty of the school is rem­i­nis­cent of John Boyne’s The Boy at the Top of the Moun­tain. Yet, as Killeen points out in the back mat­ter, he has based much of his sto­ry on fact. 

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 13 to 16.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is the pub­lish­er of Holo​caustkidlit​.com, a web­site and search­able online data­base of Holo­caust chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MA in His­to­ry from New Jer­sey’s William Pater­son Uni­ver­si­ty, where she teach­es the Holo­caust and cre­ative writ­ing. She also holds an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren & Young Adults from the Ver­mont Col­lege of Fine Arts.

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