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by Anna Dale
The author of Whispering to Witches brings us this endearingly funny tale about a girl who is functionally invisible. Dawn is so hard to notice that a recruiter for the spy agency P.S.S.T. notices her at once. Even at the age of eleven, she has a talent that her country needs, especially at a time when a mysterious enemy has blown the covers of Her Majesty’s best agents. Two spies have been injured, and one has disappeared.
Dawn quickly accepts her new destiny as a preteen spy. After a very brief training, she goes undercover to the British countryside, putting her newfound sleuthing skills to work. Staying undercover proves harder than expected, however. Her pretend mother is actually an image-obsessed secretary who can’t stand the dowdy role she has been handed. Even worse, the grandson of the missing agent stows away on their mission. When Felix and his dog aren’t interfering with Dawn’s snooping, they are becoming her friends – which, in effect, unpicks Dawn’s cloak of invisibility. This enables the villain to lure Dawn into a trap from which only a faithful friends brave sacrifice can save her.
In my opinion, Anna Dale has accomplished something marvelous in this book. She has made a plain, quiet, unremarkable girl into a hero, without being ham-fisted about it. She has captured the magical moment between childhood (when your stuffed donkey talks back to you) and adolescence, without getting syrupy. And she has introduced a secret world of espionage which is goofy enough to have agencies named S.H.H., P.U.F.F., and A.H.E.M., while also making room for danger, melodrama, and creepy mystery.