sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 5, 2012

into the stacks: liar & spy
posted by soe 3:51 am

Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead

From the jacket: “When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges is happy to hang out with Safer’s warm, eccentric family, because lately things haven’t been so easy at home: his dad lost his job, and his mom has started working extra shifts at the hospital. Life is no better at school, where Georges is the new target of Dallas, who is always on the lookout for other kids’ weak spots (so he knows exactly where to hit them).”

My take: Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me was my favorite book of 2010. I didn’t read her sophomore effort, First Light, but I was eager to read her new middle grade novel, Liar & Spy, and managed to pick it up from the library within weeks of its publication date.

Liar & Spy is set in modern-day Brooklyn, where Georges and his parents have just moved into a new apartment after being forced to sell their home when Georges’ father is downsized. While his mother works double shifts at the hospital to make rent (checking in via cell phone calls and Scrabble tile messages left after he’s in bed), Georges must contend with a bully in his seventh-grade class, not worrying his already stressed out dad, and making friends in his new building.

The last is courtesy of a small note he and his father discover in the laundry room on move-in day advertising a spy club. He is met by the sweets-obsessed Candy, who has been scoping him out for her older brother, Safer, a home-schooled boy his own age who has a job exercising the building dogs. Safer also has an interest in keeping an eye on fellow tenant Mr. X, who always dresses in black and who, Safer says, is often seen removing heavy suitcases from the premises.

As things heat up at school and as Safer begins taking their surveillance a step further, Georges must learn, like his namesake Seurat’s paintings, how much weight to put on the small details to balance out the big picture in order to find your own personal truth.

Stead gets middle-schoolers — their interactions, their thoughts, and their fears. Georges is a real kid in a real place facing real problems, just at that tipping point between handling them as a child and handling them as an adult. Safer and his family are quirky but welcoming, helping Georges make the adjustment to a new environment smoother — and far more interesting — than it might otherwise have been.

If I did not love Liar & Spy in the same way I adored When You Reach Me, it is not to say that this latest novel is lacking in some way. In fact, for a book that clocks in under 200 pages, it fits in an awful lot (including several surprising plot twists) in a very thorough fashion. It is just that Stead’s first novel was so perfect that even a very good follow-up might seem a little pale in comparison.

Liar & Spy would make a good read for the sort of kid who likes a little mystery in their reading, but who doesn’t require a lot of flash. Those who like Jerry Spinnelli’s work, for instance, will be quite at home here. And readers who will one day love Sarah Dessen, David Leviathan, and John Green, but who aren’t yet ready for their more mature themes, will find kindred spirits in these pages. There’s no high-tech wizardry at work in this novel … just a reliance on quality storytelling.

Pages: 180

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