This was an incredible book, which I’ve been reading with my local book club, The Little Badgers. Set in the early days of WW2 in a Germany already entrenched in Nazi ideology, we meet orphan Sarah as she is running from the checkpoint which killed her mother, and trying to get to safety via a boat to Switzerland. After meeting a mysterious man, The Captain, Sarah decided to abandon safety and risk everything to help him gain information against the regime she hates.
The blurb make it sound far-fetched, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great story. It definitely was an adventure in the grandest tradition. A blonde haired, blue eyed Jewish girl, fifteen but could pass five years younger thanks to her gymnastic training and lithe form, she is perfect to work undercover at a Nazi girls’ school. There she is tasked with becoming friendly with the daughter of a scientist who has created a terrifying weapon, the idea being she gains access to his home, where he has his secret laboratory.
Okay, so put like that it sounds a bit of a schonky premise, but I like the way the author runs with this idea all the way. In a perpetually rain-soaked, grim Nazi Germany, Sarah becomes Ursula Haller (Monster in the book title) in order to survive at a school where most of the girls seem feral and the teachers are worse. When the Captain is injured, the risks she takes are immense in order to look after him. At times she seems superhuman but this didn’t take me out of the story.
Did I love it? No, it wasn’t the kind of book I can honestly say I loved but I enjoyed reading it, and the ending was satisfying even though there is another book. The violence is visceral, the imagery disturbing. Sarah/Ursula isn’t an easy character is empathise with. She is too savvy, too smart, too self-aware; apart from residual regret over her mother’s death, she seems a little too much of a machine at times. Her skill-set is already impressive even at fifteen. This seemed either too convenient or terrifying, I still can’t decide which. That is the purpose of a great book; to make you feel, even if that is ambivalence.
No spoilers, but I thought the climax was fitting and justified. The book illustrated how deep the indoctrination of normal people was back then, and served as a sobering reminder that it could all happen again. In some countries, it already is happening.
Finally, the style was easy to read, despite the subject matter, and kept me turning the pages far into the night. Excellent descriptive prose and unforgettable characters, even if you can’t bring yourself to like them. A fabulous choice for a book club read.
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.