A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers learn about poverty, social class, gender bias, and police work in Victorian London. Families can discuss how times have changed and in what ways they haven't.
Mary lived as a street kid and stole to survive after being orphaned in 1850, but a stranger rewards her resilience, bravery, and independence by rescuing her and giving her an education at a girls' academy. She becomes a law-abiding citizen and is recruited to work for a spy agency composed of women, who are considered “naturally” better at espionage and observation. There are many spunky female characters.
Positive Role Models
Mary is feisty, smart, and resourceful but not particularly kind or wise. Her romantic interest is a 20-year-old man who is a beacon of courage, wisdom, and compassion.
Violence & Scariness
As the book opens, 12-year-old Mary is sentenced to hang for theft. A 10-year-old boy is found murdered.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mary's employer, a married man, has impregnated more than one servant girl; the most recent one disappeared while six months pregnant. His wife is later rumored to be having an affair. Some kissing scenes.
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A few uses of "hell" and "damn."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One scene in which a household servant is very drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this story of a female spy, set in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, includes the murder of a 10-year-old boy and has some scenes that put feisty main character Mary in danger. Mary goes undercover in the home of Mr. Thorold, who has impregnated many servant girls, and his wife is apparently having an affair. Some gritty details in the prologue explore the danger and poverty in the seamy side of lower-class London. Overall, this is more of a romance than a detective or adventure story, suitable for readers 13 and up.
Is It Any Good?
A SPY IN THE HOUSE is more Victorian romance than mystery, with preposterous plot lines and a predictably spunky heroine. The Agency is described as elite, but nothing is revealed about what makes its detectives so special other than the fact that no one pays any attention to females and that women have better observational skills than men. Mary is quick-witted and throws a mean punch, but the premise is never developed, and the ridiculous plot resolutions detract from it. Readers who want romance or mystery might want to try Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes instead.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.