#AA2019 Nominees Round Up, October 24 Edition

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld
Audio published by Listening Library
Publication Date: March 20, 2018
ISBN: 978-0525589778

Orphan Monster Spy by debut novelist Matt Killeen is a suspenseful thriller set in WWII Germany about a orphaned Jewish girl-turned-spy. As the daughter of an unmarried stage actress, Sarah’s childhood was filled with theatre and music—until the Third Reich came to power. Suddenly, her mother’s Jewish heritage puts their lives in danger, even with Sarah’s blond hair and blue eyes. After her mother is shot at a Nazi roadblock, Sarah sacrifices her one chance for escape by using her acting abilities to save the life of a British spy. Soon, Sarah is enmeshed in his mission to stop the development of a bomb with “enough destructive power to flatten a city”. She must go undercover at a Nazi boarding school for girls and befriend the daughter of a Nazi physicist. Sarah soon realizes that surviving amongst the “little Aryan monsters” is as dangerous as her directive to gain entry to the physicists home, gather intel, and do whatever she can to thwart the development of the first nuclear weapon.

Saskia Maarleveld’s stunning narration of Orphan Monster Spy matches the intensity of the story. At every turn, Sarah’s secret could be discovered by her vicious classmates, and Maarleveld doesn’t hold back the fear and paranoia. Maarleveld’s characters are all distinct, whether it’s Captain Floyd, Sarah’s mother, or any of the half-dozen girls who are Sarah’s friends and enemies at the school.

One of the greatest elements of Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy is Sarah’s character, who becomes even more life-like with Maarleveld’s performance.  Listeners feel Sarah’s love for Germany and hatred of those detryong it. They feel Sarah’s conflict around her alcoholic mother, of whom she was the sole caretaker. Some of my favorite moments are when Sarah, in her most terror-filled moments, hears her mother’s berating, insulting voice, urging her to think, to run, to act. Her life is often saved because of these memories.

Sarah’s grit, tenacity, and bravery serves as a reminder of the power of young people. This is reiterated in the author’s empowering Historical Note, where he relates examples of heroic teenagers, both historically and present day.  We see these examples in other books about young, war-time characters, such as Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Between Shades of Grey and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Fans of these stories will be just as captivated by Orphan Monster Spy.

Amy Oelkers