Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead: Is one who spies and lies a spiar?

Liar and Spy
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2012
ISBN: 9780385737432
Review Copy from NetGalley

Seventh grade is shaping up to be a difficult year for Georges (pronounced George).  After his architect father loses his job, he and his parents must sell their house and move to a nearby apartment in Brooklyn.  His mom is absent a lot, working double shifts as a nurse.  These are things Georges understands, but doesn't like.  He's also saddened that his former best friend has grown apart and now sits at the cool table without him, and frustrated to find himself being bullied at school.  Things start looking up when the move provides Georges with a new opportunity: someone has posted a sign in the building basement for a meeting of something called The Spy Club.  He meets outgoing fourth-grade home-schooled candy addict, Candy, and her furtive, dog-walking twelve year-old brother, Safer.  As Safer takes Georges under his and begins to indoctrinate him into the world of in-building espionage, a friendship begins to develop.   Soon, they are on the hunt to find the truth about a mysterious, suitcase toting man who wears only black.  This story about truth, friendship, and confidence is as simple and realistic as it is heartening.  While there are some difficult life events covered and revealed in the surprise ending (financial trouble, betrayal, bullying, and coping with sick parents), all are well addressed by the characters.  It is strongly recommended for school and public libraries serving students grades 4-7. 

I really enjoyed reading this (despite my NetGalley copy at times being formatted in size four font - what's up with that?); it's been a while since I've picked up a chapter book primarily housed in the Children's Department of your local library/bookstore.  If you haven't read Rebecca Stead's extraordinary When You Reach Me,  you should rectify that immediately.  Liar and Spy is another wonderful example of something I noticed about Stead's writing while reading the previous title, other than that I enjoyed them both.  Stead never ever talks down to her readers (who are presumably largely comprised of kids aged 9-13), nor does she dumb down difficult life problems that other writers gloss over for a similar audience.  She treats them and her child characters with the same respect as she does adults.  Stead writes wonderfully normal kids, who experience the same sadness, frustration, excitement, and life challenges as her readers, and she does it in a way that refrains from preaching.  Keep it up, Rebecca Stead!

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