Review: Liar & Spy

Sweet on Books

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Title: Liar & Spy

ARockIsLively250 Author: Rebecca Stead

Themes: Bullying, Family Life, Friendship, Identity, Moving, Overcoming Fears, School, Self-Awareness/Discovery

Published: 2012, 192 pages

'Sweet' book summary:
Reviewer: Melissa G.

Georges (named after the artist, Georges Seurat) is a seventh grader coping with issues that are relevant to most middle graders. He has recently moved from a house to an apartment, and although it's only a few blocks away, he misses his old house.

On top of that, his dad got fired, his mom is pulling double shifts at work, he's getting teased by some mean boys, and he's not sure where he fits in at school. In spite of those things, Georges seems to be an easy-going, thoughtful kid.

He even goes along with it when his dad gets him involved in a "spy club" with Safer, another boy from their building. As readers follow Georges' experiences, they really get to know him and what he's thinking. They're right there with him as he ignores the bullies, as he observes his old friend Jason who now sits with the cool kids, and as he learns about the map of the human tongue in science class. They hear his thoughts as he wonders if his teachers get it, as he contemplates Safer's Bohemian family, and as he debates how much of his life to reveal to his parents.

On some levels, Georges really seems to have it all together. He doesn't get too rattled by the bullies, and he understands that they look for people's weak spots. When he gets to be captain of the Blue Team, in gym class, he even chooses the kids who are normally picked last, a decision that definitely requires some strength of character. When Safer suggests that they break into Mr. X's apartment, as part of a spy mission, Georges refuses, until it means coming to Safer's rescue. And even though he eventually shares his troubles with his dad, he comes up with a creative way to handle his problems on his own.

As readers get to know Georges better, they find that, just as with Seurat's paintings, his world looks a bit different when seen from up close than it did from far away. Since the story is written in the first person, the reader is seeing things through Georges' eyes, and this viewpoint means that the reader is also in for some surprises along the way.

Liar & Spy manages to feel very current, yet completely timeless, all at once. Although it deals with some serious concepts, like bullying, illness and anxiety, it does so in a very age appropriate way. The story is complex without being complicated, and the characters are quirky, believable and engaging. There's a valuable message here that makes you feel good about putting this book in the hands of a middle grade reader. Like a Judy Blume novel, this one is sure to be passed down from one generation to the next!



What You Need to Know:
  • This touching story, about the ups and downs of school, friendship and family, will captivate middle school readers.
  • This book is a great selection for both boys and girls.
  • The story is set in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Although the main character is a boy, this book isn't about sports. In fact, Georges isn't even really good at sports.
  • One of the characters reveals his long list of anxieties, including a fear of elevators.
  • Rebecca Stead's book, When You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal.
If you liked this book, try:
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • Skinnybones by Barbara Park
  • Blubber by Judy Blume
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
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