A random Apple Paperback…
Meg Donovan is accustomed to the atmosphere of politics and intrigue – after all, both of her parents are heavily involved in the United States government. She loves to pretend that she’s a spy, a private detective, a descendant of Holmes himself as she bends her powers of observation to the mini-problems that surround her. But now, Meg feels is her greatest chance of all!
A Russian diplomat has just moved in across the street from Meg’s family. While he is gone most of the time, his daughter, Irina, is not. Meg decides to strike up an acquaintance with Irina – after all, they’re new neighbors, right? But Meg is not interested in being neighborly. She is determined to ferret out the spy in their midst!
Will Meg and Irina become friends in spite of Meg’s initial insincerity? And will Meg catch her spy?
There are interesting social dynamics amongst the children in The Summer the Spies Moved In. Meg’s class at school is ruled by a pretty girl named Lacey, who Meg dislikes. She and Lacey often exchange barbs, taunting and teasing one another in a barely civil manner. Lacey also has a boyfriend name Kenny who “was Rhett Butler reincarnated without a mustache”. (Meg and her friends, just by the way, are enamored with Gone with the Wind.)
Meg is very worried about not having a boyfriend herself, and is frantic that her friends not think that David is her boyfriend. She discusses her problem with her father and with several friends, including David himself, and laments over the fact that she has never had a date. Here is a conversation with her father. It’s long, but it’s a fair sampling.
“You look like you’ve lost your best friend.” Meg’s father looked up from his computer monitor and pushed himself back from his desk. Stacks of papers and books surrounded him in his third-floor study.
Meg slumped down in her father’s brown leather reading chair. “I may as well have. Kathy’s in California, and David and I had a fight.”
“Oh? A lovers’ quarrel?”
Meg frowned and leaned forward to stand up and leave.
“Sorry, honey. Didn’t mean to tease,” Mr. Donovan said more quietly.
Meg accepted her father’s apology and fell back in the chair.
“So what’s the matter?”
“Did you ever have a friend who was a girl but she didn’t want to be your girlfriend?”
“Let’s see.” Meg’s father thought for a moment. “No, at your age, I didn’t have girlfriends or friends who were girls. I had my sister and her friends, of course, but they seemed like little kids.”
“Later I had just girlfriends, I think,” he continued. “Until I met your mother. It seems she’s always been both a friend and a girlfriend. Bet this is about David, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I don’t want people to think he’s my boyfriend. I want a real boyfriend, and if everybody sees me hanging around with David, I’ll never get one.”
“Honey, I don’t think everybody is paying that close attention to the kids you hang around with.”
“All the other girls already have boyfriends. I haven’t even been on a date.” The more she talked about it, the more bleak her situation seemed to Meg.
“All the girls? That seems unlikely. Besides, don’t I remember you going to the movies and duckpin bowling last spring with a group of kids that included boys? And those parties you went to – the dancing parties?”
“Yeah. But nobody really likes me. We think Kirk might like Kathy. We don’t think any of the boys like me.”
“You mean ‘like’ as a girlfriend?”
“Well, it’s hard for me to believe that’s true, Meg. Maybe it is. Maybe they need a few years to develop some taste. Take it from me, my dear girl, you’re going to make some lucky man one humdinger of a partner someday.” [pgs. 48-49]
Instead of encouraging his daughter to invest her time and energy into worthwhile matters, Mr. Donovan fuels her preoccupation with boys.
Meg attends a mixed pool party where boys and girls flirt mildly with one another.
Meg has relatively good relationships with her parents. They have lots of conversations in which she asks them questions and they encourage her. One of the main topics of conversation is communism vs. capitalism. I didn’t always agree with the information Meg’s parents gave to her. For example, while Meg’s mother says that America’s economic system is more productive than Russia’s, she declares that, “we just need to figure out how to distribute the wealth more fairly while still providing incentives to create new wealth.” [pg. 31]
When Meg and Irina discuss their parents, Meg passes along this insight. “Parents are always busy. You just have to interrupt them. They like to be told stuff. It makes them feel like they’re good parents. I remember when I was just a kid my parents took a course on how to raise children. There was a whole chapter in their book about helping to solve kids’ problems. I used to make up problems just so they could help me. It made them feel really good.” [pg. 124]
Meg’s mother has just offered to give Meg a book to read about the Soviet Union.
“Okay, Mom, thanks. If I have time.” Meg stressed the “if.” She found her mother’s reading suggestions uneven. One of Mrs. Donovan’s rules was that Meg should read one constructive book for every two adventure or mystery stories. A constructive book, according to her mother’s definition, was either fiction in which the story took place sometime between the Middle Ages and 1960, or nonfiction, which reminded Meg too much of assigned reading. Meg’s mother would often glance through whatever Meg was reading and would even borrow Meg’s books to read herself. But, luckily, Meg read a lot of books, and Mrs. Donovan was too busy to keep an absolutely accurate tally. [pg. 15]
Irina thinks that her housekeeper is too strict. She, Meg, and David try to think of a way to get rid of her. They nominate disobedience, sarcasm, and pretending to haunt her as acceptable options.
Meg and David visit the Museum of Natural History where they view the dinosaur exhibit. Locke writes that, “they were following closely the ongoing debate about dinosaurs and sided wholeheartedly with the scientists who argued that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, fairly intelligent creatures related more closely to birds than to lizards.” [pg. 38]
When Meg comments on the strangeness of a girl not wanting to touch a thermos, her little sister Dorie suggests that the girl had just landed on the planet and could see microscopic spiders on the thermos with her alien vision. Meg groans as a response. She is occasionally short with her sister and friends. However, what I thought was one of the pluses of the book is that Meg also includes Dorie in some of her activities.
It is mentioned that Meg and her friends watch Gone With the Wind, Godzilla, and Superman.
Conclusion. Mixed review. There were good and bad parts to The Summer the Spies Moved In and neither really outweighed the other.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret