Hello humans! Today’s review is brought to you by the sense of horror I experienced when I realised how long this book sat on my shelf before I actually read it (and then how long it took me to write and publish the review). In my defence, this was one of those ‘third book in a three for two offer’ kind of purchases and they do tend to slip down my reading priorities list. But I finally got round to reading Orphan Monster Spy in June and here are my thoughts.
A Jewish girl-turned-spy must infiltrate an elite Nazi boarding school in this highly commercial, relentlessly nail-biting World War II drama!
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.
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Content warning: Antisemitism, violence, child abuse
Prefacing all of this with the fact that the atrocities in this book and in this historical period did not happen to anyone like me, I fully recognise my privilege in this situation and I cannot speak with any authority as to the accuracy of the representation of events and the representation of the Jewish Faith in this book. I did have a look for some own voices reviews and couldn’t see any but I’ll update here if any emerge.
This is a very interesting take on the classic YA spy novel. For one thing, it was nice to read a female main character in a story like this one, having gone through my teenage years reading Alex Rider and Cherub (until I got so fed up with ‘whatever the protagonist in Cherub’s name is’ that I had to stop reading them). Putting women in these kinds of roles is important and was certainly appreciated by me. Sarah has a lot of moments of feistiness, she was an interesting character to read. However, I did feel that, at times, her voice was just a little…off? The difficulty is that Sarah is acting as a much younger girl for the sake of the plot, but sometimes it was hard to get a handle on what was an act and what was actually a slightly weird voice for her age. One of my pet peeves is younger characters with unrealistic voices and this, while it was only slightly off the mark, just didn’t quite feel real enough for me.
This is, in a way, also a take on classic ‘girls in boarding school’ stories in YA. The archetypes were there, you had the bitchy girls, the young nerdy girls and so forth. By setting this book in Nazi Germany, however, it is made clear how much higher the stakes are for Sarah. This isn’t just your normal ‘oh she wins round all the girls and in the end, they decide to be friends’ this is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of worldwide significance.
I did enjoy reading this, though enjoy isn’t the right word, for me, it felt a little too rushed, some of the aspects of the plot felt a bit too convenient or a little too rushed for my tastes. But that is sort of par for the course in books like this and I think that may be something that appeals to other readers. Of course, a lot of this book is quite hard to read, deliberately making you uncomfortable, but if this book didn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable I would be slightly worried.
All around, an interesting book, I don’t read a huge amount of YA historical fiction but the books I have read have been enjoyable and this book is certainly worth a look at – maybe see if you can get it in a three for two?
My rating: 4/5 stars
All opinions are my own.
What say you? Have you read Orphan Monster Spy? Let me know in the comments below!
This has been on my bookshop shelf for a little while and I keep looking at it… besides the story, I cannot ignore the cover.
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It is gorgeous!