When it comes to anything about the American Revolution, I am weak. (I blame American Girl books and Liberty Kids for my fascination with this time period.) So when I was browsing NetGalley and saw Rebel Spy by Veronica Rossi was a reimagining of Agent 355—a female spy for George Washington—I immediately hit that request button.
In attempt to escape her brutal step-father, Frannie Tasker assumes the identity of a drowned society girl from New York, Emmeline Coates, and spends several years living the life of a lie. But as the war between England and the American colonies draws out, Frannie finds herself siding with the rebel cause—and spying for them. Using her status in society to eavesdrop on British officers, she finds herself risking everything to pass along the information to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as Agent 355. But the deeper she leans into her lies, the more she has to lose.
When I first started reading, the story wasn’t quite what I expected. It was about a girl from Grand Bahama Island who steals the identity of a New York socialite to escape from her brutal stepfather. She becomes involved with the American rebels almost by chance and because she needs something else to do with her time except attend parties and swoon over dashing British lieutenants. It didn’t seem to be based on any of the women most historians believe could have been Agent 355, so it was a little bit strange that this book focused on a random girl from history instead.
But that being said, I was compelled to keep reading because the historical details were so rich and I wanted to know what happened to get her sent to the Jersey prison ship. The story does take a while to actually get to New York and the spying, but I understand the first handful of chapters were setting up for why someone like Frannie/Emmeline would join the spy network in the first place. What she has experienced and also learned in her time under disguise both play a significant role in her decision to help the American rebels.
A lot of the story lingers on her socialite life as she tries to pluck information from the British military leaders she’s involved with. There isn’t a ton of action throughout, though there is some suspense sprinkled between the parties and the dinners and other social outings.
I could have done without the last plot point, though. I knew elements from the beginning of the book would circle back around, but it didn’t quite go as I imagined. There just wasn’t much explanation as to how or why, and Frannie could have easily explained her innocence in the matter. Again, I realize the author was trying to find a reason for her to be sent to prison as rumor surrounding Agent 355 suggests, it just seemed a bit too simple. The ending also left me wanting something more, even if it was just an epilogue of what happened to Frannie after the American Revolution was won.
I like how Veronica tied Agent 355’s identity to refer to multiple women spies, though. That it wasn’t just Anna Strong or Frannie Tasker, but it was all the women who made a difference during the American Revolution.
Overall, I enjoyed Rebel Spy for various reasons. It starts off slow and often focuses on aspects that are unrelated to the spy network. But for a YA novel about this topic, it does well and might get readers interested in learning more about the American Revolution.