Life is good when you're twelve years old, unless of course you're Georges. Between middle school vultures like Dallas Llewellyn, his dad's lost job, his overworked mother, and his awful name (Georges without the S would be so much easier), life is a touch grim at the moment.
Georges is doing his best to adjust to the many changes in his life, but the necessary move from house to apartment isn't helping. Cognizant of that fact is Georges's father, who promptly hangs their Seurat poster (as in Georges Seurat) in the same place above the couch as their old home, making Georges feel just a little bit better.
The "Sir Ott" as Georges calls it, not only brings comfort to him, but also pulses at the heart of Liar & Spy. "What you can't tell from our poster is that the picture is painted entirely with dots. Tiny little dots. Close up, they just look like blobs of paint. But if you stand back, you see that they make this whole nice park scene...Mom says that our Seurat poster reminds her to look at the big picture. Like when it hurts to think about selling the house, she tells herself how that bad feeling is just one dot in the giant Seurat painting of our lives."
When you stand back and think about the "dots" of Rebecca Stead's engaging Liar & Spy, they too fuse together creating the threads of this fantastic little mystery. When Georges stumbles on a sign in the basement of his New York City apartment building that reads, "Spy Club Meeting - TODAY!" his unlikely response sets into motion the fast-paced antics of a peculiar boy named Safer, his bunny-slippered sister Candy, and one darkly clad "Mr. X, who is most definitely up to something evil." Stead's rich characters each offer bits of wisdom for Georges's consideration. As Georges forges unlikely new friendships, he also manages to uncover wonderful truths about himself and the world around him.
Stead is spot-on when dealing with the complications of tween angst and friendship. As Georges's friend Jason stands idly by while Dallas Llewellyn dishes out his "classic bully crap," it's Safer who suggests, "... maybe the friends of the jerks are only pretending to be their friends. Maybe they recognize the enemy and they're keeping him close."
There's much going on behind the scenes of Stead's book, and the Newbery Medal-winning author gives a nod to readers' intelligence as she deftly allows the plot to reveal. Whispered conversations and sideways glances add to the suspense, keeping readers riveted from the start.
Like her award-winning book, When You Reach Me, Stead's Liar & Spy is an exhilarating look at the fast pace of big city living. Drop-ins like Yum Li's Chinese restaurant, DeMarco's pizzeria and Bennie's candy store might well be fictional but they manage to make the city come alive letting readers feel more like native New Yorkers than armchair travelers. Stead adds an easy urban feel to these enjoyable chapter stops.
No doubt fans of Stead will be thrilled with Liar & Spy. Though it is a change from her previous book, When You Reach Me, this contemporary tale maintains Stead's focus on exceptional characters, unique device, and tight, clever dialogue. The many "dots" - of friendship, loyalty, and honesty deliver identifiable truths for young readers as they blend together to create the larger picture: life.
This review was originally published in September 2012, and has been updated for the August 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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