“A Most Dangerous Innocence,” by Fiorella de Maria, Ignatius Press, 2019, 220 pages, $15.95
Judy Randall is the type of student to madden an educator. She’s smart (especially in mathematics) and creative. She’s also obsessive about her interests, uninterested in conforming, and determinedly goes her own way.
Judy is the central character of “A Most Dangerous Innocence,” by Fiorella de Maria. The novel is set in autumn 1939. Sixteen-year-old Judy is a student at Mulwith, an isolated Catholic girls’ boarding school on England’s Channel Coast.
World War II has begun. Judy wants to remain in London to help fight the Nazis. At 16, with her father’s permission, Judy could do war work. Her father wants Judy out of London where she will be safe. He’s sending her back to Mulwith to finish her education.
Judy’s opposition to the Nazi’s is steadfast, almost obsessive. Judy had a Jewish grandmother. While Judy is Catholic, by the Nazi racial laws, one Jewish grandparent makes you Jewish, regardless of religion. As Judy points out to her father, if she were in Germany or newly conquered Poland, Judy would have to wear a yellow Star of David.
Judy is considered a troublemaker at Mulwith, especially by the headmistress Miss Miller. Miller is as obsessive about conformity as Judy is about her own interests. Miller views Judy as disobedient and insolent. Miller is also anti-Semitic (she owns a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”) and opposed to war with Germany.
Judy’s semester begins badly. Miller privately directs Judy to lose the footrace in the school games. Judy ignores Miller, winning the race. Thereafter, Judy decides Miller is out to get her. Judy also decides Miller is a Nazi spy and begins seeking proof of her thesis. Thing begin going very wrong.
Judy allies among the staff include the Petersons, husband-and-wife instructors, and the new mathematic instructor Harry Forbes. Yet, they find sheltering Judy from her follies more and more difficult.
With “A Most Dangerous Innocence” de Maria has written a marvelous and absorbing coming of age novel. De Maria’s portrait of Judy, on the cusp of becoming an adult in a difficult time, is engaging.