Sixteen-year-old Ilse Klein and her older brother, Wolf, have a secret: They can do magic by writing scientific equations with their blood.
When Ilse accidentally sets fire to a kite using her magic and it is witnessed by a government agent, the siblings are blackmailed into helping America win the Second World War. Wolf is recruited as a spy and is sent to Germany, while Ilse is sent to a top-secret engineering facility in Tennessee to help develop magic to transport an atomic bomb that will end Hitler’s reign. Complexities arise when some important documents go missing and Ilse is blamed for treason. The accusations against Ilse affect Wolf, whose Jewish identity makes him even more vulnerable in the face of the enemy. Despite the diversity present in the book—both Wolf and Ilse are Jewish and gay, and Ilse’s friend Stella, a chemistry major also working on the bomb, is African-American—many of the characters feel underdeveloped. The implausibility of a group of teenagers being chosen to lead a nation’s war effort, with particular regard to the development of science and technology, unfortunately is not portrayed convincingly enough to allow readers to suspend disbelief.
Although Locke’s (The Girl with the Red Balloon, 2017, etc.) novel has potential, it does not do justice to the complexities of war, the Holocaust, and racial segregation. (Magic realism. 14-18)