I recently joined a book club. I’ve always wanted to be part of one, but had never managed to get myself an ‘invite’. I knew of ones that existed, but it always seemed like an elusive secret that you had to be especially asked to be a part of. And I never was. So that was that.
But, during lockdown, a local Usborne Books seller came up with the idea to do a book club based on the YA books that form part of the Usborne collection, and put it out to a local business network group I’m in. I was instantly attracted to the idea.
I love YA books. They are so interesting and dynamic. Not that books for adults aren’t, but they offer so much in terms of a character’s journey and learning curve.
YA books didn’t really exist as a ‘thing’ in my day. There were a couple of High School romance series and of course, Judy Blume, but then there was a big gap and you just seemed to leap into adult books as though teenage, coming of age characters, didn’t matter.
Put it this way, I leaped from Judy Blume to Steven King – you can’t get more different than that. The trend in teenage reading back then was horror and I think I’m still haunted by Misery and Silence of the Lambs to this day.
So, I guess I’m kind of making up for it now by reading YA books.
The first book we read as part of this book club was Orphan, Monster, Spy by Matt Killeen. I was instantly attracted to this story because it is set during the war; I’m fascinated by stories set in war time and always have been. What’s more, this particular story is set in Germany during the Second World War, so it comes from another perspective.
Sarah is a Jewish girl who loses her mother right at the start of the story when they are attempting to escape to Austria. Her mother was an alcoholic, once an actor and performer, but who found herself without a husband, when he left them, and struggling to look after her daughter when she was unable to work.
Having her once-comfortable life turned upside down and becoming a carer to her mum, had made Sarah a survivor, something she would later rely on when she found herself completely alone. Then meeting the mysterious captain, becoming a weapon in the fight against the Nazis, is yet another test for survival, even if it is in the extremist sense.
To help the captain and his mission, Sarah agrees to go to a girl’s boarding school for the Nazi elite. Her job is to befriend one of the girls, so she can get an invite to her house to discover what her father is up to. And whilst this might sound like a far-fetched idea, according to the author’s notes, almost everything in Orphan, Monster, Spy, has some basis in fact. The idea of using children as spies, agents and soldiers, is not a fanciful one. There were, also, elite Nazi schools known for their brutality.
This story had me gripped throughout, not least because a Jewish girl risked her life every day surrounded by the daughters of elite Nazis who would have thrown her to the wolves had they found out who she really was.
At the same time, I found it satisfying how strong Sarah was in their company. In an ignorant bubble, where they were being taught that an Arian race was supreme and strong, there was Sarah, out thinking, outrunning and outmanoeuvring them at every turn. Sarah, a Jew, someone seen as week and a plague on society.
The relationship between Sarah and the captain was interesting and complex. They had no one but each other and in their reliance upon each other, found a kinship neither had expected to find.
By the end of the story, it is clear that Sarah and the captain have only just begun in their mission to work together for the greater good and I look forward to reading what they get up to in their next venture.
Want more book recommendations? Read my book reviews here.