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 an award-winning poet and historian who focuses her writing on the Jewish experience in America and during the Holocaust. She teaches in the history department of The College of New Jersey and serves as Director, Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center.