Middle Grade Monday: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead


Middle Grade Mondays happen… well, every Monday.
See what others have posted this week on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

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You don’t need me to sing the praises of this NY Times bestseller by Newbery winner Rebecca Stead. But I’m going to anyway because it caught me off guard.

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from GoodReads:

Georges (the s is silent) has a lot going on. He’s having trouble with some boys at school, his dad lost his job and so his mum has started working all the time – and they had to sell their house and move into an apartment.

But moving into the apartment block does bring one good thing – Safer, an unusual boy who lives on the top floor. He runs a spy club, and is determined to teach Georges everything he knows. Their current case is to spy on the mysterious Mr X in the apartment above Georges. But as Georges and Safer go deeper into their Mr X plan, the line between games, lies, and reality begin to blur.

This book is a subtle and sneaky one. It started off by surrounding me with all these lovable characters, then reeled me in with its convincing 12-year-old sense of humour. I immediately related to this intelligent, thoughtful kid just trying to make it through middle school, staying out of trouble and ignoring the bullies using his mother’s philosophy of always “looking at the big picture.” (I was so like him in 7th grade.)

But his mother is missing in his life at the moment, as she has been working double shifts at the hospital since his dad lost his job. They communicate solely by scrabble pieces on his desk, he writing one before he goes to bed and she responding when she gets home from work. This is tender enough as it is… but, there’s much more to his story.

He meets an odd home-schooled kid in his apartment complex and begins to spend more and more time in his “bohemian” household. At first, I thought this was simply a quaint story about a quirky friendship taking place during this rough time in Georges’s life, but as Stead loves to do, she reveals that each boy has more going on for himself than either realizes.

This is Stead’s talent, this ability to weave a story slowly, revealing only when necessary, and at the same time tempting us along with this authentic, sympathetic voice. The authenticity arises from her amusing details, like a kid who gets nicknamed Bob English Who Draws and a painting by Seurat (who Georges is named after), which is misheard as Sir Ott.

Every story is a mystery, and hers happens to be a small mystery in the scheme of things. Ultimately, it’s about how we manage our own fears. I really appreciated the ending; it was satisfying without being too pat. And the hero solves his own bully problem in a clever, even uplifting, manner.

That’s all I’ll say about that, because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t gotten to it yet. It’s just too sweet.

7 Comments

  1. Akoss
    Mar 4, 2013

    I’ve had this darling waiting on my list for way too long. This year I’m going to read it. For real!

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Mar 5, 2013

      It’s impossible to keep up. When I was done I handed it to my husband. He never reads kids books anymore and now he’s caught up in it. I keep hearing him snickering and want to know what part he’s on.

  2. Barbara Watson
    Mar 4, 2013

    Isn’t it something how she can make you think you’re reading a story about one thing and it’s really about another? Wow.

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Mar 5, 2013

      I know, and in such a quiet manner. There is no gigantic save-the-world adventure for George, just real life stuff.

  3. Joanne Fritz
    Mar 4, 2013

    I loved this book too! WHEN YOU REACH ME is still my favorite of all of hers (I’ve also read FIRST LIGHT), but this one really stayed with me. Still wondering about that laundry, though…

  4. I was going to do an MMGM on this one today as well, but had a change of plans. You do such a good job, though, that I think I’ll just recommend everyone go and visit you!

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