If Meg Cabot wrote an episode of “Downton Abbey,” it might end up being this delightful debut novel in which two teenage girls inadvertently switch roles at an English estate in 1938.
Hannah Morgenstern is a Jewish cabaret singer who performs nightly at her parent’s club in Berlin. A chatty girl with an operatic voice, she is the darling of the Nazi customers until Kristallnacht destroys her parents’ club and her safety. Hannah’s mother sends her to live with some distant relatives at Starkers, an English estate, but there’s a mix-up and Hannah is assumed to be the new kitchen maid rather than family. Hannah, having been warned of her relatives’ odd behavior, takes it all in stride. She dons the uniform and tries her best, even as she commits every conceivable service faux pas.
Meanwhile, Anna Morgan arrives to Starkers as a spy for her Nazi-sympathizing father. She’s sent as the kitchen maid, but with her charming good looks and diplomatic airs, she’s mistaken as the German cousin. Anna may not know German, but she can use her good looks to snag the interest of the wealthy heir, Teddy. Anna does catch Teddy’s eye, but it’s Hannah who he meets nightly in the yews for meaningful conversations in German. Except, in the dark, Teddy thinks he’s speaking to his cousin and not the spritely kitchen maid.
Readers have to suspend their belief, as the major plot twist can easily be cleared up if Hannah would just come out of the dark yews so Teddy can see her in the light. The cast of characters is a charming, oddball lot, and the tension of World War II is eased with the silliness of the situations at hand. Happy endings all around make this novel a fun read in dark times.
Kimberly Giarratano is the author of Grunge Gods and Graveyards, a young adult paranormal mystery.