Title: The Boy and The Spy
Author: Felice Arena
Publisher: Penguin Books
Source: School Library
RRP: $16.99 (AUD)

Set in German occupied Sicily, Antonio is a smart and ingenious boy, running from a German soldier in the opening scene. The only way to escape the solider is to jump from the highest cliff in Sicily, il Diavolo. After entering the water he blacks out, coming to in a sea cave after being saved by an American spy. Antonio promises to help the spy. Antonio is himself an outsider, a rota, which is an unwanted baby. He was left outside the convent and adopted by Mama Nina. Loved by his adoptive mother, the town’s people have always looked down on him. Now he has a chance to help someone, to be needed. The soldier is injured and while Anontio is breaking into the doctor’s house to steal supplies he disturbs the doctor’s daughter, Simonetta. Simonetta helps Antonio, and finally her parents’ involvement in the resistance and subsequent help becomes invaluable in smuggling the spy out of Sicily. Times are tough for Antonio, for his mother is gravely ill and he has put some dangerous people offside while helping his new American friend.

This adventure war story will be popular with middle school readers, and possibly older readers who find longer books daunting. The plot is involved and adventurous, set firmly in a time and place many readers have not experienced. There are many war stories for this intended audience, but this is unique in its setting. It introduces the reader to Italy’s involvement in the Second World War and provides an indication of the suffering they endured. Characterisation is strong with Antonio and Simonetta plucky young people. The dialogue flows as smoothly as the narrative and the Italian scattered throughout reaffirms the setting. Themes of family, bravery and the need to belong are strong throughout.

I will enjoy adding this to my war book talk books and look forward to sharing it with prospective young readers. It has potential to encourage further research into this period and place in history.


The Boy and the Spy is set in Sicily, Italy, during the Second World War. Antonio loves to antagonize the German soldiers, but in this opening scene he seems to have met his match.

Read from chapter 1, page 1 to chapter 2, page 7, “…there’s nothing but blackness”.

Antonio awakes in a sea cave. An American spy whose plane has been shot down has saved him. Now it is his turn to help the spy. He must find medical equipment and a radio, and while he is doing this, finds people willing to help.

This is a gripping Second World War adventure story.