Book Review: City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurance Klavan

During the early days the U.S. was involved in Word War II, Americans became obsessed with the thought that spies were among them, secreting away information that would aid the enemy and defeat the Allies. In New York, people were suspicious of Germans in general, and many thought it was their patriotic duty to keep an eye on German citizens.

This is the setting for City of Spies, a new graphic novel by Susan Kim and Laurance Klavan, with artwork by Pascal Dizin. Evelyn has arrived to spend the summer with her Aunt Lia in New York while her father spends time with his new wife. An only child, Evelyn has known a series of stepmothers since her own mother died years before. To help pass the time, she draws action adventures for the superhero she creates, Zirconium Man, and she is his sidekick, Scooter.

Aunt Lia’s artistic lifestyle doesn’t accommodate Evelyn very well, but she doesn’t mind as much after she meets the building superintendent’s son, Tony. Together, they decide to have an adventure and catch a spy. They soon discover that just because someone has a German background, it doesn’t mean he’s stealing secrets and working with the enemy. When they stumble on a real plot, they decide to follow it through and foil the bad guys themselves.

City of Spies does a great job of exploring the imagined and real dangers of the early 1940s while focusing on issues such as friendship, family relationships, and loneliness for both children and adults. It also brings to life two fantasies common among children: being a superhero and catching a spy. As in all good graphic novels, much of the plot and action are carried through by the artwork, and Dizin’s drawings are the perfect accompaniment to Kim and Klavan’s words. A mother-daughter book club with girls aged 13 and up would be able to discuss the historic era and how graphic novels in general differ from reading a regular novel.

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