cover image Spying on Miss Muller

Spying on Miss Muller

Eve Bunting. Clarion Books, $15 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-395-69172-4

A nostalgic look at life in a Belfast boarding school during WWII sweetens the impact of this heartfelt examination of the meaning of loyalty. Miss Muller, the language teacher whom all the girls once worshiped, is now the object of their suspicions. It's bad enough that she's German, but her furtive late-night walks seem to coincide with enemy air raids--could Miss Muller be a spy? Against her kinder instincts, the narrator, Jessie, gets caught up in her classmates' clandestine investigation. Also involved is Greta Ludowski, a vindictive Jewish refugee from Poland. Because Bunting makes such a persuasive case for looking below the surface, it's especially disturbing that the novel's one true villainess turns out to be Greta, whose single-minded, nearly cartoonish vengefulness (``You have no right to be in the company of decent people'') is almost glibly passed off as the result of her having ``been through too many horrors. Still, there is much to enjoy here, not least the boarding school ambience deftly conveyed in numerous quirky details (``The most embarrassing thing was to have a space between the top of your stockings and the elastic of your knickers,'' Jessie confides at one point). An author's note gives a clue to the authenticity of the atmosphere: Bunting herself attended a school in Belfast that ``strangely resembled'' the one here. Ages 9-13. (Apr.)