Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead


Stead, Rebecca. Liar & Spy. 192 p. 2012. Random House Children's Books. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780385737432. 

I was so excited to get ahold of the ARC of the upcoming title from Newbery Medal winning author, Rebecca Stead. I absolutely loved her Newbery-winning title, When You Reach Me. I still get chills thinking about the way she wove all the plot elements together in that book! On the other hand, I really didn't connect with her debut novel, First Light. Having had such drastically different reactions to her books, I was curious to see how I would like Liar & Spy, a story about a kid trying to survive the awkwardness of middle school and navigate a strange but compelling friendship when he moves to a new apartment building.

My verdict? I loved it. This slim volume, clocking in at under 200 pages, is a quick read that's jam-packed with thought-provoking themes and memorable, multilayered characters. It has the feel of an indie movie-- quirky and brilliant, and will undoubtedly appeal to fans of The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. 

The main character, Georges, is someone the reader really roots for. He's matter-of-factly morose at times, in the most endearing way. The themes of bullying, friendship, and fitting in versus standing out provide much fodder for discussion and insight, making this title a good choice for a middle school book group. Stead also weaves in unexpectedly delightful motifs like spelling and silent letters, choosing one's own name, and painter Georges Seurat's pointilism as a metaphor for life-- whether you see the big picture or examine all of the little dots individually.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand-Jatte,
by Georges Seurat, 1884-86
As she did in When You Reach Me, Stead weaves a tight storyline with subtle clues and red herrings that keep the reader guessing and wondering-- and then brings it all together with a twist at the end. I love a good unreliable narrator, and this book has a great one. 

Brilliantly plotted, tightly written, and deeply satisfying. 

Look for Liar & Spy on bookstore shelves on August 7. ARC for review acquired at ALA Annual from Random House.

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