Rebecca Stead won the 2010 Newbery for When You Reach Me (my review) which has already become a beloved favorite of many. Needless to say excitement and expectation are running high about the release of her latest novel Liar & Spy . People will not be disappointed. In fact, I think Liar and Spy is even better.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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
becomes Safer's first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the
mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer
becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to
go for your only friend?
Georges is a character. One with voice and personality, that jumps off the page and invades your brain. He is one of those quiet characters who you can recognize in people you know. He is not slaying dragons. He is not surviving the apocalypse. He is not fighting for his life. He is a kid trying to survive 7th grade and all its atrocities. His voice is exactly the right tone for a 7th grader too. He is wise and mature at times, sounding older than his years. He is scared and unsure at others, sounding younger than his years. His sarcasm is there through it all. He is genuine. There s no other word to describe it.
Georges is not alone though, he comes with a cast of secondary characters as eager to bounce off the pages as he is. Safer spends his days spying, playing Scrabble, and watching parrots. Candy is obsessed with all kinds of sweets, except the orange flavored ones, and is an expert on seasonal varieties. Bob English who Draws carries a bag of super fine Sharpies around with him and is attempting to change the spelling rules of the English language (he's a fan of Ben Franklin). Typing it I feel like I am making them sound quirky, and I suppose they are, but it is a genuine quirkiness, a quirkiness that in no way overwhelms who they are. It is just one small part of them.
Georges also has parents who love him and are interested in his life. He is age appropriately conflicted about this, bouncing between savoring it and scoffing at it. His father has been laid off and has started his own business. To compensate his mother, an ICU nurse, is working a lot of double shifts. It is understandable that they have not noticed exactly how harassed Georges is at school, despite their love and care for him. Georges has real kid problems that readers can identify with.
I appreciated the way the bullying situation was addressed by Stead as well. The sufferings of Georges are not anything that most middle school students haven't been forced to endure at some point. That doesn't make them any more bearable or less wrong. This point was made without being hammered at the reader. I also appreciated how the situation resolved. It felt realistic and possible and didn't need to be dramatic.
Then there is the spying and the mystery of Mr. X, which I will say little about, but fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will enjoy this I think. It is spying exactly as kids would do it.
Rebecca Stead has won my heart
forever and all eternity for writing a MG novel with depth, wisdom,
heart, soul, and snark all contained in less than 200 pages. Yes, it
can be done. The writing in this is top notch. I bookmarked a ton of
pages. I could share some amazing passages but feel that context is
required to fully grasp their brilliance. I will just share one, my
favorite quote from the whole book , spoken by Safer: Boredom is what happens to people who have no control over their minds.