Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

liar and spy

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

In the first book following her award-winning When You Reach Me, Stead again writes a clever book that slowly reveals its truths to the reader.  It is the story of Georges, named after Georges Seurat, whose family is forced to sell their home after his father loses his job.  Because of this, his mother is away all the time, picking up double shifts at the hospital to make ends meet.  It is at the new apartment that Georges meets Safer.  They first meet at a meeting of the Spy Club after Georges’ dad responds to a note in the laundry room.  As the boys become better and better friends, their spy games escalate too.  Soon the question becomes what it takes to be friends with a liar, and who that liar is.

Stead writes such layered books that they become almost more about exploring the layers than about the underlying story.  Here the story is Georges and his friendship, but it is also about denial, coping and fear.  Stead uses the pointillism of Seurat as a symbol that runs through the book.  Does one focus on one specific thing or on the larger picture or both at the same time.  Stead’s writing is careful and beautifully crafted.  Everything serves a purpose in the story, making it a delight to read.

Georges is a fascinating character.  Towards the beginning of the book, readers will understand that something else is happening with his mother other than double shifts.  Georges, though, is unwilling or unable to face whatever it is.  This gives the book a layer of doubt and even sadness that makes for an uncommon read.  This is magnified by his father’s absence as well and by the bullying he receives at school. 

A virtuoso novel for middle graders, this book is elegantly crafted, exceptionally written, and unforgettable.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley.