Goodreads: Spying on Miss Muller
Miss Muller, half-Irish and half-German, has always been a favorite of the girls at Alveara boarding school, but WWII has made that teacher an outcast. Then one night Jessie sees Miss Muller wandering up to the roof. Could it be that Miss Muller is really a German spy?
Spying on Miss Muller is a classic 90s historical fiction/coming-of-age novel, and that may or may not be a good thing. Perhaps some will find reading it nostalgic. I thought the book felt a little dated, and that I was perhaps too old to read and appreciate it now.
The charm of this for middle schoolers is, I think, obvious. It’s set in a boarding school in Ireland during WWII–all very romantic stuff for young readers. Furthermore, there’s a lot of girl talk going on; Jessie and her friends like to lie awake at night and talk about boys, or even pass notes about them during class. Younger readers might find all this very tantalizing or even daring–the boys and girls are mingling in the dark, even kissing! Much of this is very amusing to an older reader, however–the girls constantly speculate about what horrible thing one girl must have done to be asked to leave, or what it is that the boys and girls do behind the shed. The girls all like to act like they know–but clearly none of them do.
Aside from Jessie’s dreams of the handsome Ian McManus, the book is filled with speculations about the titular Miss Muller. Can it be her father was a Nazi? Why is she wandering the halls after hours? Can they still love Miss Muller and be good citizens? These are intriguing questions for girls in time of war. As an older reader, however, I could not help but sigh. Here are girls blaming a half-German woman in Ireland for what Germany is doing. They are prepared to ruin her life, if they can, in retaliation for events she has no control over. The cruelty and hatred of children is astounding.
The answers to me were obvious. The woman is not a criminal and there is no reason to make her life horrible or to try to hurt her. So watching the girls speculate about her actions and form plans to reveal her supposed spying activities was not amusing. I didn’t even feel a sick fascination as one might from reading The Lord of the Flies. I just felt jaded. These girls know so little and are so mean. Reading felt more like plodding.
And the whole structure and writing style of the book reminded me of the 90s so much that I couldn’t help but be amused. I never really liked those kinds of coming-of-age stories, the ones where they worry about their bra size or kissing or whatever. So I had no fond memories to fall back upon while reading this; I just thought it was funny that it was so easy to know exactly when this book had been published.
I do love a good boarding school story, but this one, apparently was not for me.