Cover Orphan Monster Spy: A girl's face washed in red

About the Book

Title: Orphan Monster Spy
Published: 2018

Cover Story: Seeing Red
BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child
Talky Talk: Pulling No Punches
Bonus Factors: Spies, Human Nature, German Swear Words
Anti-Bonus Factors: Evil Boarding School, Nazis
Relationship Status: And How Does That Make You Feel?

Cover Story: Seeing Red

The girl on this cover (Sarah) is unapologetically staring into your soul. She is informing you with her eyes that she will not stand for any of your shit, so don’t even try with her. I like it. The color and the bold font with the Nazis in the background—it’s all very arresting. And we’ve got a favorable quote from historical-fic queen herself, Elizabeth Wein, so good on ya, Matt Killeen!

The Deal:

Sarah’s new life begins when her mother is shot in the head in front of her. Switzerland—and freedom from the oppression they were experiencing in Berlin and Vienna—was within reach, but in one foolhardy moment, that safety net is gone. There are some who would give up: stranded in Germany, only fifteen years old, with no papers and no money, but Sarah isn’t one of them. She falls in with a mysterious man she takes pity on and subsequently rescues, and, in turn, he helps her find her purpose: saving Germany from itself.

It won’t be easy; Sarah is “lucky” that she can pass for non-Jewish, with her blond hair and blue eyes, but it takes more than just the right look to walk amongst monsters. You have to think like them, talk like them, and, harder still, act like them. Sarah’s first mission is to infiltrate a Nazi boarding school, befriend a scientist’s daughter, and gain access to their home (and secret laboratory). But how far will Sarah have to go to make this mission a success? And is it possible to escape the monster’s den without being tainted by the muck and mayhem?

BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child

Simply put, Sarah is a survivor. She reads way older than her fifteen years, but she has basically raised herself: her Aryan father ran off when things got too difficult for her and her Jewish actress mother. Her mom, barred from the stage, descends into drunkenness and leaves Sarah to starve and fend for herself. Sarah is worn out from being accosted and hidden away and beaten down, so when she finally sees an opportunity to do something important, she seizes the chance.

Thanks to her mom’s homeschooling in the art of language and drama, Sarah is an adept chameleon, which serves her well in her present situation, but can make her a tough nut to crack. She’s sympathetic, sarcastic, and strong, but she’s also a young girl in a very scary time and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep going, to the point where she will push herself beyond what’s physically and psychologically safe. Instead of being her friend, I’d like to get her a boatload of therapy once she’s out of her present situation. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Germany, late 1939 and at the start of World War II, is not the place for kissing. I couldn’t tell if I was getting any vaguely inappropriate vibes from Sarah and her benefactor, Haller, but being that he was probably twice her age, I’m hoping I was just being hyper sensitive (I didn’t want my girl getting taken advantage of). Later on there is a horrifying situation Sarah finds herself in that should take the scale down to negative a zillion, but thank God nothing ever gets that graphic.

Talky Talk: Pulling No Punches

I mean, the very first paragraph depicts Sarah, sprayed in her mother’s blood after she was shot in front of her, attempting a harrowing escape from their crashed car before she gets torn apart by Nazi dogs. This book is not for the faint of heart. There are characters getting the crap kicked out of them, being shot at, forced to eat maggoty chocolate cake, murdering others, spewing hateful vitriol. It’s intense. It’s also a good portrayal of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and I guarantee you will fist-pump anytime Sarah does get a win.

Did we need another WWII book, of which I am sure are the literal thousands out there? Probably not, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one anyway. Some of those books, like The Book Thief or (OMG) Code Name Verity, will be intrinsically designed to make me cry buckets, but, no, I did not cry during this book. I squirmed. I squeaked. I shuddered. What would happen next? What other twisted thing was lurking around the dimly lit corridor of that terrible school? Most of the time it was just a teenage girl…but we all know how horrible those can be.

Bonus Factor: Spies

Jennifer Garner in a red wig from Alias

Why are spies so fascinating? I guess it’s easy to admire those who can manage to keep multiple identities separate but intact when it’s a struggle for most of us to just be our single selves.

Bonus Factor: Human Nature

One green sign saying "good" and one saying "evil" pointing different directions

It was tough and humbling to watch Sarah be alternately disgusted by and then unknowingly sucked into certain aspects of her role as Ursula Haller, good little German girl. It can be so much easier to go with the flow than stand up against what you believe is wrong, and a true eye-opener when you have to re-examine what you thought you knew about yourself.

Bonus Factor: German Swear Words

A swear jar with money stuffed inside and all around it

I’d suggest having your Pocket German dictionary (or Google Translate) handy because Killeen liberally tosses out German words and phrases that you can understand in context but are more interesting to understand in actuality. If you were ever looking to expand your swear-word vocab, look no further than these delightful German phrases! I started reading the book on the plane, so I wasn’t able to look things up until later, but once you understand that dumme schlampe—the name Sarah’s mother often called her and that she now calls herself in her internal monologue—isn’t exactly some gentle, teasing term of endearment (it essentially translates to “stupid bitch”), well, you begin to get more of a sense of what Sarah’s childhood was like.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Evil Boarding School

A creepy looking mansion

Normally boarding schools are an automatic bonus for us, but no one, I repeat, NO ONE wants to attend this pro-Nazi, all-female school where they are, to paraphrase, conditioning young women into good German wives and mothers. The headmaster is embezzling most of the money, leaving the girls with drafty rooms and thin blankets, rotten food, and teachers who seem to have found the perfect place to fit their personalities (AKA they suuuuuck).

Anti-Bonus Factor: Nazis

Anti Nazi Symbol

Lest we forgot how awful and derogatory the Nazi rhetoric could be, this book will remind you: they are fucked up.

Relationship Status: And How Does That Make You Feel?

Welcome to therapy, Book! You’ve shared some intense experiences with me, and all I want is for you to feel better. Maybe you’ll never truly escape the horror that you saw, but perhaps talking through it will allow you to start healing. Now: tell me about your mother.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Viking Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Orphan Monster Spy is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.