This Week’s Book Review – A Most Dangerous Innocence


I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘A Most Dangerous Innocence’ a coming of age novel


May 12, 2019

“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.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is

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  1. Keith Rice Member
    Keith Rice

    Interesting story and it reminds me of my own reverse image experience.

    I found myself attend the Hebrew Theological College (HTC) in Skokie, IL as a high school sophomore in 1971. The dean of the dormitory was an odd and ornery old man with a penchant for quinine water and also a concentration camp survivor. He was known as being tenacious and somewhat unpredictable.

    I  had become a “trouble maker” and he assumed I was the ringleader of the new cohort of trouble makers, I wasn’t. In fact I was quite independent and had an uneasy peace with the new cohort, but it seems I may have inspired them. The dean decided to enlist me as a “spy” offering me various special privileges to turn on my mates. I refused, and I remember one day hearing him call out on our intercom with his distinctive German accent “Rice, you’re trying to kill me!” I hid under the bed until the threat passed and spent the rest of the year trying to avoid him.

    The next year I found myself in public school.

    But the distinction between myself and the character Judy Randall is clear here: I had no honor, there was no valor in what I was doing, it was simply juvenile self indulgence. Yet to brittle martinet-type authorities our behaviors would likely be indistinguishable.

    • #1
  2. SkipSul Member

    This sounds like an incredibly complicated novel.  It’s always difficult in the best of circumstances to distinguish real from imagined conspiracies, and to do so while coming of age must be terrible indeed.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    It’s always difficult in the best of circumstances to distinguish real from imagined conspiracies, and to do so while coming of age must be terrible indeed.

    And let’s put another spin on by going from imagined to real.

    • #3

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