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Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

BOTTOM LINE: Dark and disturbing but still fascinating and inspiring

Genre: Suspense; Thriller; Historical Fiction; Young Adult
Publication Date: 20 March 2018
Source: Publisher

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Her name is Sarah. She’s blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish in 1939 Germany. And her act of resistance is about to change the world.

After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s part of the secret resistance against the Third Reich, and he needs Sarah to hide in plain sight at a school for the daughters of top Nazi brass, posing as one of them. If she can befriend the daughter of a key scientist and get invited to her house, she might be able to steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. Nothing could prepare Sarah for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined. But anyone who underestimates this innocent-seeming girl does so at their peril. She may look sweet, but she’s the Nazis’ worst nightmare.”

My Thoughts: Orphan Monster Spy is not like any previous World War II novel I have ever read. This fact, though, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we get a heroine who funnels all of her anger and fear into actively opposing her enemy; the passivity that so often is a part of any story involving the Jews versus the Nazis is gone largely due to our heroine’s appearance. This is a breath of fresh air if only because there are so few stories about people resisting and way too many stories about people capitulating. On the other hand, we know that few people did resist and those who did faced certain death, an effective deterrent on its own. Therefore, there is an element of the unrealistic to our heroine’s story which makes it more wishful thinking than a realistic possibility. This is not to say that there was not a secret resistance at work within the Third Reich. Nor does it mean that there were no blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jewish persons of any age that hid out in the open. It just means the story, for me at least, is just that – a story that would be nice if it were somewhat based in fact but is so clearly not.

This dual reaction to the story does not mean that it is not worth reading. In fact, I would say it is just the opposite. I believe Orphan Monster Spy is worth reading because it reminds us that we need to fight for the things for which we believe are worth fighting. If our heroine can tamp down her hatred for her oppressors to live among them and as one of them, we can continue to fight our own fights, whether that is a battle for health, for our children, or for our way of life. Sarah is inspirational in her drive and determination, and we should always seek out and utilize such inspiration.

As with any novel set during World War II set in Germany, Orphan Monster Spy is not for the squeamish or the sensitive reader. Sarah’s experiences in the boarding school are brutal, and the girl-on-girl violence in the guise of hazing and establishing the hierarchy is more than a little disturbing. These are Mean Girls for a violent era, and it can make for pretty rough reading. What’s more, Mr. Killeen does not hold back on any scenes of violence, either in the school or outside of it. While not easy to read, these scenes are essential to understanding the acceptance of such everyday displays of brutality, which in turn is important for establishing the mindset of all of the characters. Cruelty begets cruelty, hatred begets hatred. We see this fact in action throughout the story as every character’s actions have a precursor which set them down the path of violence or surrender.

This pattern of cause and effect is one of the major themes and also one of the reasons why Orphan Monster Spy is such a compelling story. It is not just that Sarah tends to kick ass as often as she finds herself in terrifying situations. It is not only that we get to see the supposedly weak get one over on the supposedly strong. It is that we get to understand the steps Sarah took in order to get to the point where she is willing to face death in order to be able to enact her form of revenge. We see how one act of violence leads to another, and how those acts impact the victims. We see how Nazism was able to spread and remain dominant when it flies in the face of human nature to accept such hateful rhetoric. Most importantly, we can understand the slippery slope on which the United States is currently perched with the increase in hate-filled rhetoric and increasingly polarization of its people.

Orphan Monster Spy is more than just an inspiration and a cautionary tale for the modern era though. It is at heart an action-adventure novel for young adults in which our fifteen-year-old heroine pits herself against her oppressors. Sarah is running from the moment we first meet her, and in many ways she does not stop running even after the novel ends. There are a few reprieves from the flood of emotions and adrenaline that her story instills in readers, but the story is such that even those reprieves are intense. This makes it a novel that is difficult to set aside for real life as well as one that is difficult to forget when not reading. Sarah is not a character to want pity but pity is what you feel for her nonetheless, and her plight is one that constantly keeps you on edge, which is never a bad thing when it comes to thrillers.

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