Though I usually focus on MG, I do tout the occasional YA title. I suppose this book straddles the line. Though the cover images may suggest MG, the book felt more YA to me as I read.
It's 1952, and fourteen-year-old Janie's parents are Hollywood screen writers accused of being sympathetic to communism. That's why the family moves suddenly to England, where the parents get jobs writing for the BBC, and Janie must, of course, go to a new school. As in many places at this time, when the signal is given, the kids and teachers must stop whatever they're doing and "duck and cover" -- hide under the desks and tables with their faces buried in their arms. The first time this happens, Janie can't help but notice Benjamin Burrows, the boy who will not duck and cover. It's stupid, he scoffs. Hiding under a piece of furniture will not save you from an atomic bomb.
Benjamin, the son of the local apothecary (pharmacist), wants to be a spy, even though his father wants him to go into the family business. Benjamin can't see pursuing a life of handing out headache pills and croup remedies. But as he and Janie do their own spying, they quickly find out that the apothecary is more than he appears, real spies are everywhere, amazing scientific discoveries are about to be lauched, and that entire nations and even magic are involved in the effort to keep the bomb out of Russian hands. It was very interesting to read this book almost immediately after I read the Newbery Honor book Bomb. I really feel as if I understand the background of the Cold War much better now, having read both.
This book is filled with likable characters, suspense, an intriguing blend of reality and magic, and believable, inventive ways of "getting the parents out of the way." There is a lot here; too much to list, expertly woven into a whole.
Recommended for those who like a "big, magical adventure" and a not-overdone historical period. In fact -- why not recommend they read Bomb, too? Each book sheds light on the other, and together, they illuminate an important time in 20th-century history.