Review of Max in the House of Spies

Max in the House of Spies Max in the House of Spies [Operation Kinderspion]
by Adam Gidwitz
Intermediate, Middle School    Dutton    336 pp.
2/24    9780593112083    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593112090    $10.99

From the moment eleven-year-old Max Bretzfeld arrives in England as a Jewish evacuee from WWII Germany (accompanied by two immortal, opinionated, and invisible-to-others creatures, a kobold and a dybbuk), his overriding desire is to return to Berlin. The preternaturally clever, resourceful Max has always protected his gentle parents, practiced as he is at anticipating the actions of bullies and staying ahead of their next moves. Who now will protect his parents from the Nazis? When he realizes that one of the men in his Jewish foster family works for British Naval Intelligence, he resolves to find a way to use that connection to be accepted as an undercover agent and sent back to Germany. Clearly, Gidwitz’s (The Inquisitor’s Tale, rev. 11/16) story calls for a great deal of suspension of disbelief, but the unlikely and fantastical elements are balanced by a rich and realistic depiction of WWII London, from the snobbery of life at an elite boys’ school (including entrenched antisemitism) to the Blitz. Max’s training as a spy is described in riveting detail, with readers rooting for the determined boy even as we know the dangers awaiting him if he passes the test. A cliffhanger ending (a sequel is promised) adds even more tension. An author’s note gives more background on the historical and folkloric figures, settings, and events of the novel; an annotated bibliography is appended.

Pubissue-From the March/April 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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