Friday, May 14, 2010

World War II Is Background for Spy Tale

Evelyn is a ten-year-old girl with an active imagination and an artistic flair who is staying with her aunt in New York City in the summer of 1942. She spends much of her time writing and drawing in her notebook. She writes comic book stories about Zirconium Man and his sidekick Scooter. They always manage to save the day, even while being threatened by black tendrils that seem to grow out of everywhere and fill the panels.

Evelyn, who looks quite a bit like Scooter, wants to be a hero, too. "Maybe not yet," she says, "but one day."

Evelyn's aunt is not exactly the best choice for being responsible for a child. A rich girl who fancies herself an artist, she lives a hedonistic life and at first barely pays attention to her niece. Evelyn's father has sent her there so he can honeymoon with his new wife - the fifth or sixth, according to Evelyn, since her mother died. "The new one looks exactly like Lana Turner. And the one before that looked like Ginger Rogers. And the one before that looked like Veronica Lake ... and the one before *that* looked like -- "

Her litany is interrupted by the mother of her confidant and only friend - the only other kid, in fact, living in the building. Tony is the son of the building super, and she meets him when he comes to help his dad fix a leak in their bathroom.

Tony and Evelyn go to a movie, where they see a public service announcement warning about Nazi spies. "Citizens of New York City are being asked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. " Soon the two would-be spycatchers are prowling the streets looking for people with foreign accents - which are plentiful, since the apartment is in Germantown, where lots of German immigrants have recently renamed their stores things like "USA Meats" and "Uncle Sam Donut Shop." Tony sees a man who looks quite a bit like Adolf Hitler himself getting his shoes shined, but Evelyn is convinced he's a real American because his pants don't have cuffs. "Straight legs are American-style. Dope."

Evelyn and Tony finally decide that the doorman of their building is a Nazi spy. They see him take a ticking package out of his locker, and hear him on the phone with someone:

Hello? Ja, it's me. I've got something for you. Something I think you're gonna like. Where should we meet? All right ... half an hour, above the yards. Ya, gut. Bis bald. Seien Sie night spat."

Evelyn decides that "the yards" must mean the Brooklyn Naval Yards, and they find a policeman, who happens to be with his friend a reporter, and they find the doorman still walking, and follow him to a building and bust into the room - to find him in bed with a woman for whom he has brought a cuckoo clock.

This actually makes the newspaper and both children - not to mention the cop - end up in serious trouble.

No, that's not the end of the story. Before long, the children do in fact get themselves involved with a real spy, and get themselves in even more serious trouble - and danger. It's a very entertaining tale with lots of angles and layers and some real psychological depth, all packed into less than 200 pages of words and pictures. A very fun read.

Published May 2010
Written by Suan Kim & Lawrence Klavan
Artwork by Pascal Dizin
First Second, 172 pp., $16.99 trade paperback

3.5 stars (out of 5)