Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Desert Dark

Desert Dark

Sonja Stone
Paper Engineer: Fiction
Holiday House
For ages 12 and up
Holiday House, 2016   ISBN: 978-0823435623

Two years ago Nadia’s family moved to Virginia. They had moved many times before, and every move had been hard because every time Nadia was the new girl in class. This time the move turned out to be a good one because Nadia made friends with Paige and they were as close as two friends could be. Until Paige hooked up with Nadia’s boyfriend. What makes the whole situation worse is that Nadia was the last person to find out about them.

Living with the humiliation of their betrayal has been hard, which is why Nadia jumps at the opportunity to go to a government-funded boarding school in Arizona. The school offers a two year program for young people who have certain skill sets. In Nadia’s case she can solve certain kinds of cryptographical problems with ease, and she is also naturally very bright. Though Nadia’s mother is not keen to have her only child move so far away, Nadia does manage to get her parent’s blessing to go to the Desert Mountain Academy.

Soon after she arrives, Nadia discovers that the academy isn’t just a school for gifted students; it is a training ground for people who might one day serve in the CIA’s Black-Ops Division. In other words, it is a training school for future spies. Some young people would be intimidated by this information, but Nadia isn’t. She is excited at the prospect of learning spy craft.

It isn’t long before Nadia realizes that she is far behind the juniors in her team, all of whom have been at the school some time already. She thinks she can manage on her own at first, but after she accidently shoots herself with a tranquilizer gun during an exercise, she has to admit that she needs help. With special additional training from the martial arts teacher, and evening study sessions with one of her team members, Nadia begins to catch up with the others, and she begins to think that perhaps she won’t have to quit the school. Maybe she has a future being some kind of covert operative after all.

Then the students find out that Nadia’s predecessor did not die in a car accident, she was actually shot. When Nadia barely escapes being bitten by a venomous Gila Monster lizard that was put in her room, she begins to wonder if she might be next. What she doesn’t know is that there are people around her who are keeping secrets, secrets that could be dangerous. Her teammate Alan is not who she thinks he is, and her roommate Libby is also keeping something hidden. Nadia’s team leader, Jack, is helping the dean to identify a double agent that has apparently joined the school. The dean thinks the agent is Nadia, and so Jack sets about trying to find out everything he can about the new student. His search for information is made a lot harder because try as he might, Jack cannot help being attracted to Nadia. She is everything he likes in a girl, and yet here he is suspecting her of being a traitor to her country.

Told from the point of view of all the major characters, the story in this book gives readers an entertaining peek into the world of espionage. What makes it particularly interesting is that we get to see the same situation through different sets of eyes, and come to appreciate that in every case, the secrets the young people are keeping are often painful and sometimes harmful and dangerous as well. We get a sense of what their future lives will be like, when they will have to live with lies and distrust every single day.