A World War II caper features three 13-year-olds learning ciphers amid the bombs.
Bertie, a white boy in 1944 London, is excited to be a new civil defense volunteer. With the help of his rescue dog, Little Roo, he carries messages for London’s wardens. In the middle of an air raid, Bertie finds—and loses—a young woman, who vanishes, leaving only a ciphered notebook. Bertie enlists two friends his own age to decipher the notebook: his Jewish best friend and a white American girl who’s also seeking the missing young woman. The messages introduce them to a frightening story of traitors and double crosses; it’s a good thing their code-breaking skills are up to the task! With many allusions to Sherlock Holmes and in chapters headed with excerpts from the Special Operations Executive’s wartime spy training, the three children put their minds to cracking the ciphers and rescuing the missing woman. Little Roo helps as well, sniffing out people who need rescuing. Though the characters’ voices and actions sometimes stretch the bounds of credulity, the puzzle solving is deftly handled. Clear instructions for deciphering messages, complete with an illustrated decoder ring, teach readers to solve the mystery along with our heroes—albeit without the help of Little Roo. Hopkinson includes some historical figures, including a Nigerian immigrant who effectively diversifies a typically whitewashed setting.
Lighthearted cleverness invites readers to play along. (footnotes, historical notes, Q-and-A) (Historical fiction. 9-12)