Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Liar & Spy
By Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House)
In Stores August 7, 2012
Some authors can write a career’s worth of books and never quite nail the intangible element of mood. Not so with Newbery-winning author Rebecca Stead. Her new novel, the much-anticipated Liar & Spy is simmering with an “Is everything as it seems?” atmosphere. It’s sophisticated yet grounded, mysterious, and includes a surprise ending that will cause readers to rethink the whole operation.
Georges is in the midst of upheaval at school and at home. His friend has abandoned him for the popular crowd (see also: jerks) in their seventh grade class. His father recently lost his job, forcing the family to move to a new apartment in Brooklyn. And to top it off, Georges’s mom, a nurse, is always at the hospital. Georges forges a unique friendship with homeschooler Safer, whose hobby of spying on neighbors is as odd as it is intriguing. The tension mounts when Safer enlists Georges to snoop on suspicious neighbor Mr. X, and at school “The Science Unit of Destiny” promises true love or tragic death.
From Georges dry wit to the deftly woven story threads, there’s a lot of skill on display here. Stead seems to pull inspiration from everywhere in creating this story – including the Hitchcock classic Rear Window.
The conclusion features a twist – two actually – that will make the reader to reassess the entire story. At different points in the book, I found myself questioning the believability of small things. I mean, seriously, could Safer really use a credit card to open a locked door? But patience paid off as the conclusion brought a satisfying dose of clarity, easing my quibbles.
Georges’s world is relatively small, magnifying the importance of subtle interactions. Stead understands that in order to do great things, you have to trust your audience. Although it’s consistently engaging, Liar & Spy is a bit of a slow burn – a fact that may turn off some young readers, but will make it a more rewarding read for others.
With memorable characters, an intriguing story, and one heck of a mood, Liar & Spy is another impressive effort from an author who excels at the unexpected.
Digital review copy from NetGalley.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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