Reviewed by Julie, Children's Lit enthusiast and general pop culture geek
I am a huge fan of Rebecca Stead’s previous book, the Newbery Award winner “When You Reach Me,” and eagerly anticipated this book for months. While, when compared to "When You Reach Me," "Liar & Spy" isn't as high-concept and, therefore, carefully structured, it was still worth the wait.
LIAR & SPY is narrated by Georges (the ‘s’ is silent), a seventh-grade boy who has just moved from his childhood home to a new apartment due to his father’s recent unemployment. Grappling with the move, his mother’s long work shifts at the hospital, and a group of bullies at school, Georges has more on his plate than the average seventh grader can handle. But when he meets his new neighbor Safer, a self-appointed spy from an eccentric family, Georges is thrown into a world of secrets, lies, and espionage. When the spying begins to go too far, Georges must ask himself how far he’ll go to keep his only friend.
Like she did with “When You Reach Me,” Rebecca Stead incorporates strong, likable characters, a gripping plot, and the equal parts humor and bittersweetness of growing up. Stead has a particular sense of current problems facing middle graders, particularly the issue of bullying. She paints a sympathetic portrait of Georges who, as he tries to shake off a couple of “middle school jerks,” truly struggles with the effect that constant teasing has on his present. Kids will identify with Georges—and cheer him on to his plan for a resolution.
Another highlight is the character Safer, an intriguing homeschooler who loves birds and drinks coffee from a flask. When Safer takes Georges under his wing, they develop both a fascinating friendship and a student-teacher dynamic. But as the novel continues, readers will begin to question whether Safer is all that he seems—as well as which character is the “liar” and which is the “spy.”
Fast-paced, thoughtful, and funny in parts, “Liar & Spy” is an excellent novel with an end twist that shouldn’t be missed!
Market: Middle-grade fiction
Language: Mild (1-2 instances during bullying scenes)
Adult themes: Unemployment, bullying, family illness