Review: City of Spies by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
Take a look at the cover for City of Spies. Remind you of anything? Yes, I too had visions of Tintin as soon as I laid eyes upon it. Skepticism soon followed. But while the homage is clear, this isnâ€™t a weak attempt at read-alike status – it stands on its own. A throwback graphic novel mystery, City of Spies is page-turning entertainment.
Itâ€™s June, 1942. World War II is in full swing, and Evelyn is about to enter a whole new world. Sent away by her womanizing father for the summer to live with Aunt Lia in Manhattan, Evelyn is out of her comfort zone and unhappy, creating comics to comfort herself. Aunt Lia, a struggling artist unprepared to take care of a child, isnâ€™t thrilled about the arrangement either. Evelyn soon meets Tony, who shows her the ropes. An innocent game of spot the spy turns into something much larger â€“ an honest to goodness mystery right in their â€œGerman townâ€ neighborhood, complete with important packages, secret codes, and hot pursuits. It slowly becomes clear that the information at the center of this mystery is of the highest importance. Nuclear importance.
The plot is nicely paced, slowly building tension as Evelyn and Tony dig deeper and learn more.
There are a number of adult characters who play important roles. Itâ€™s nice to see that many of them, especially Brendan Hughes, a cop with bigger ambitions, move beyond rote types and into more round characterizations.
The pen and (digital) ink illustrations are colorful, precise, and charming, serving the story well. Layouts mainly consist of small panels (again, Tintin comes to mind), with the occasional splash to set the scene.
I love it when a book exceeds my expectations. This one did it. City of Spies is an engaging effort and a pleasant surprise.
Review copy from publisher
Also reviewed by Good Comics for Kids.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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