Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Liar and Spy, Rebecca Stead

The Teaser: Georges (the s is silent) is not having an easy go of it. His family has to move out of their house because his dad lost his job, his mom is always at the hospital, his only friend suddenly wants nothing to do with him and he's being bullied by some of the meanest kids in school. When Georges answers an ad in his new apartment building looking for people to join a spy club, he meets Safer, Candy and their big brother Pigeon and it seems like Georges may actually have real friends for the first time in a long time. But not all is as it seems in this new apartment building and there really are mysteries to be solved and spy missions to accomplish. With Safer pushing Georges farther and farther outside his comfort zone, Georges must figure out what he wants and learn to stand up for himself, both to his new friend and to the bullies at school.

What Stood Out: This is a really hard book to write a description for without giving anything away. There are multiple plot lines weaving in and out of this book to give the whole story a very lived-in and true to life feeling. Stead also has an knack for details, building a beautiful if relentless and cruel world for her characters. I was not a fan of Stead's Newbery winning When You Reach Me, mainly because I didn't believe in the world or the characters, but with Liar and Spy I understand exactly where each character was coming from.

What Didn't Work: There was a lot going on in Liar and Spy. Part of that was awesome, it made the story  much more realistic, but I still wish that certain elements had been foreshadowed better or given a little more room to breathe. By the end, with its umpteen twists in the last 20 pages, I was struggling to keep up.

Anything Extra Special?: I love a good unreliable narrator. Not to give anything away, but a huge part of Liar and Spy is Georges piecing together the truth from what people choose to reveal and Georges has a couple pretty big secrets of his own.

Liar and Spy also dives head first into an extended metaphor about pointillism and Georges Seurat that pays off big in the end. I'm impressed that Stead found a way to make 19th century post-impressionism so accessible and interesting for this audience. If one child looks up "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" after reading this book, it will all be worth it.

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