In early 1944, London, England, 13-year-old Bertie Bradshaw is still traumatized by the tragedy his family experienced in the Blitz—the Nazi bombardment of the city in 1940-1941. Now the Little Blitz, more Nazi bombings, are ravaging the city. Bertie wants to do his part to make up for what happened to his family and to help the British and American forces prepare for the imminent invasion of France, though when and where it will take place remain top-secret information. So Bertie enlists as a civil defense volunteer; his role is to tell people to go to shelters when the air-raid warning sirens go off and to report to a command post the areas that were bombed and where people needed to be rescued.
One night in February, Bertie sets out with his trusty dog, Little Roo (L.R.), to fulfill his volunteer duties, but nothing turns out as he planned: “I wasn’t thinking about becoming a spy that night. I was just trying to be brave, do a good job, and stay out of trouble. It wasn’t going well.” In a fast-paced, serendipitous series of events, Bertie runs into an American girl with his bike (he doesn’t learn who she is till later on), finds a mysterious red notebook on the road, and discovers an unresponsive woman in a nearby alley. When he runs to get help for the woman and returns with police officers, she has disappeared. Mystified, Bertie returns home and reads the notebook till he comes up against pages of coded ciphers.
Drawn into intrigue and danger, Bertie, the American girl named Eleanor, and David, a Jewish refugee, along with feisty, courageous L.R., unravel the mysteries of the notebook and its brave author, and help to prevent what might have been a serious threat to the Allied invasion of France.
Profound, insightful, and stirring historical fiction, this novel for middle school readers portrays protagonists who are mature beyond their years because of the hardships they’ve experienced. The wholesome friendship and camaraderie of the three young people striving for a common goal are delightful and inspiring. Bertie’s reflections into the devastating nature of war will offer readers who have never experienced warfare a window into what many children throughout history have lived through: “I was thinking about how the war was so big, like a giant wave crashing on a beach. And how we were all like tiny grains of sand, being tumbled around or swept away.” (Yearling)