Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

Published: 2021. 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Penguin Random House 3. Woman with baby [Public Domain] via openclipart 4. An Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters mural on Sandy Row in Belfast, Northern Ireland. [CC-BY-2.0] Original image has been cropped. via Wikimedia

Years after the Troubles in Ireland, while a peace process is being negotiated and acts of violence are still being committed, single mother Tessa is shocked to discover her sister Marian has been a member of the IRA for many years. Tessa is drawn into her sister’s world at great danger to herself and her young son.

“The state uses political violence every day, they only call it terrorism when the poor use it.”

This is a quiet book for the most part, told from the main character’s point of view. Details of all her reflections can sometimes feel repetitive and indeed there is quite a lot about the main character’s baby. There is little “in-your-face” action, but the New York Journal of Books thinks that the author “opts to view the pain and violence through a young mother’s eyes, there’s less in-your-face blood and guts, and perhaps more agony in spite of that.” Kirkus believes this to be “A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.”


“… recipe calls for six sweet, firm apples, like Honeycrisp, Pippin, or Northern Spy. I stop short, suddenly self-conscious, like someone is at the window, watching my reaction to those two words.”

“I wonder, would a good mother take Finn away from this place, or keep him close to his father? Would a good mother work for peace, or stay away from the conflict? Would a good mother be preoccupied with terrorism during every minute she has spent with her son this week?

Author: Flynn Berry

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