ORPHAN MONSTER SPY, by Matt Killeen, Viking Books for Young Readers, March 20, 2018, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
I have so many thoughts about Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy I’m not sure where to start.
The YA thriller stars 15-year-old Sarah whose mother is shot at a German checkpoint. After barely escaping herself, Sarah falls in with a mysterious man who isn’t who he appears to be — his accent is vague; his apartment is furnished for show; and there’s a surprising lockbox full of weapons, money and alternate IDs.
The man is a spy. And he’s got an interesting proposition for Sarah — infiltrate a school for the daughters of top Nazis, posing as one of them. If she can befriend the daughter of a key scientist, they may have a shot at getting their hands on blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe.
Sarah agrees, thinking the hardest part will be making friends. Little does she know, the school is more like a battleground than not. There’s a pecking order at this school and seemingly innocent Sarah is at the bottom. But the girls would be wrong to underestimate Sarah. She knows their weaknesses and is willing to exploit them to reach her ultimate goal — taking down the Nazis.
Orphan Monster Spy reads like a movie. Matt Killeen’s cinematic prose immediately draws you in and doesn’t let you go.
Sarah’s backstory is strong, although not without a few holes (I think this might be in preparation for future novels). Nonetheless, she’s a compelling character that you want to fight next to; you want to see her win.
One of the strengths of Orphan Monster Spy is Killeen’s nuanced exploration of characters. While some are obviously bad, you see the different shades of patriotism, practicality and straight-out brainwashing. The characters become human rather than caricatures.
Orphan Monster Spy is action-packed, some of which is a touch on the violent side. Even so, it’s not over-the-top for a YA novel. I wouldn’t hand this book to a 12-year-old, but probably would to a 14- or 15-year-old.
I haven’t read a novel like this in some time, and I’m excited to read more by Killeen in the future.
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