You devoured First Light. You jumped for joy when When You Reach Me won the Newbery. If both A and B are true, you’re bound to adore Liar & Spy. Why? Because Rebecca Stead knows how to pen a sweet-ish yarn with just the right mixture of middle-school angst, smarts, and yearning without all the heavy baggage found in titles geared toward older readers. As in her previous two titles, there are plenty of tricks up her sleeve that only the cleverest of readers will catch before the end.
Liar & Spy opens with seventh-grader Georges (the “s” is silent) in a huff. Aside from the usual annoyances (being made fun of at school, having no friends, finding homework tiresome), Georges is especially bummed about his family’s recent move out of their house and into a new apartment in Brooklyn. With his dad out of a job, his mother has to work double-shifts to make ends meet and he hardly ever sees her. But when Georges befriends Safer, a 12-year-old boy who lives in the building, and Safer ropes him into joining a spy club dedicated to solving the identity of a mysterious neighbor clad all in black known as Mr. X, Georges has a hunch that his new life might turn out to be not so pathetic after all.
Aside from her affection for a good ol’ fashioned kid-friendly caper complete with tried-and-true tricks of the spy trade (in this case, sticking a gum wrapper into Mr. X’s door jamb to detect when he’s home) and hidden references to a certain Alfred Hitchcock flick, Stead throws in plenty of other kooky details to liven up the storytelling. Mention of a loft bed fashioned out of an old fire escape (how cool is that?), the legendary interrupting cow joke (MOOO!), creative Chinese fortune cookies (“Why don’t you look up once in a while? Is something wrong with your neck?”), a Seurat painting (i.e. Georges calls him Sir Ott) and characters naming themselves (Safer’s name should give you a hint, but not an obvious one), will surely elicit chuckles or, perhaps, a raise of the eyebrow from most readers. There are feel-good lessons to be learned as well.
Like most bookworms, Alexis Burling has loved reading since she could crawl. She has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade and has reviewed both children's and adult books for prominent media outlets such as teenreads.com, Publishers Weekly, and the Washington Post.