In 1940, a tightknit group of British orphans embarks on a mission to infiltrate Hitler Youth squads.
In this debut novel, six orphans—ranging in age from 11 to 16—grow up together in southeast England at the St. Michael’s Church and Home for Boys. They pine to become British Boy Scouts—especially Reggie, the eldest—but the local chapter haughtily rejects their applications. Sister Noreen, who has a background in “Scout craft,” encourages them to start their own chapter—they call themselves the “Scouts of St. Michael”—and they contribute to the war effort, helping the church prepare for the inevitable wave of bombings. When German fighter planes arrive, the boys realize the newly installed anti-aircraft gun is left unmanned, and Reggie and Freddie (the second oldest at 15) boldly take the initiative, shoot one down, and capture a notorious Nazi pilot. The Scouts win national recognition for their heroics, but that attention also spawns an extraordinary assignment, code-named Operation Archangel—they’re asked to disguise themselves as Hitler Youth and capture its sadistic leader, Thomas Peter Heydrich. Morales artfully presents the decidedly implausible—the Scouts don’t speak any German when the mission is first conceived—as tantalizingly possible. The plot crackles with high adventure and briskly paced action, and the Scouts are as resourceful as they are brave—the work reads like a Hardy Boys novel combined with historical fiction. The author’s writing is both accessible and buoyant, and sometimes achingly touching. When one of the nuns discovers that the boys are being sent to war along with the new curate (a former intelligence operative), she’s overcome with emotion: “On that she gasped and began to sob. He went to her and lifted her from the chair. Hugging her was all he could think to do. She was trembling with each sob. ‘Oh, Jim. Please tell me this isn’t true.’ ” But the story’s ending is so abrupt and inconclusive, readers can only assume (and hope) it was composed with a sequel in mind.
A thrilling war tale well-suited to a YA audience.