MMGM: LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead

Hi there, MMGMers! I was on a bit of a YA kick there for a while, but I’m finally back with an MMGM review this week. I’ve had LIAR & SPY on my TBR list for a while. I loved WHEN YOU REACH ME (who didn’t?), so I was anxious to see how Rebecca Stead followed it up. I’m happy to report she doesn’t disappoint! Since I’ll cover that in the review part, here’s the description:

Liar & Spy by Rebecca SteadWhen seventh grader Georges (the s is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy.

Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? 

And, as usual, here are the five things I loved most:

1. Sir Ott – I love how a painting by Seurat is so woven into the story it becomes both a character and a metaphor for what’s happening in Georges’ life. He’s even named after the artist–Georges Seurat. There are multiple passages I could choose to demonstrate, but I’ll go with the introduction of the painting.

“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, with people walking around in old-fashioned clothes. There’s even a monkey on a leash. 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 I was little, I thought my parents were calling our poster the ‘Sir Ott,’ which is how you pronounce Seurat, the name of the artist from France who painted the picture. And I still think of the poster that way–like it’s this guy, Sir Ott, who has always lived with us.”

2. The friendships – Georges navigates through multiple friendships in the book–his former best friend, Jason; his new neighbor, Safer; and the kids at school, including Bob English Who Draws. He learns something from each of these friends–something about himself and something about friendship. I really love how these storylines developed.

3. The mystery – This was so well-done. There’s a mystery set out by Safer that masks another undercurrent running through the entire story. I was always aware something else was going on in the background, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was until I got to the end. I won’t spoil it for anyone by dropping any hints.

4. The parents – I really loved the picture Rebecca Stead drew of Georges’ parents. I could see them so clearly, even when they weren’t in the scene. The Scrabble conversation Georges has with his mom is so poignant. And their financial difficulties were handled in a way that the reader gets it without it becoming the main focus of the story. I always appreciate it when there’s a good family relationship.

5. The theme – There’s an overriding theme of figuring out how to face your fears. It’s carried out through the whole taste unit at school, but also through what’s happening with his family and Safer. By the end, I could see how it played out in almost every subplot, and yet I didn’t feel beat over the head with it. Very well done.

Have you read LIAR & SPY yet? Let me know what you thought.

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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15 Responses to MMGM: LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead

  1. I love that ‘thing’ Rebecca Stead does…where the story you think you’re reading turns out to different than what you thought you were reading.

  2. Joanne Fritz says:

    Yes, I enjoyed this book, and you did an excellent job of explaining why it’s so impressive, but I have to admit I still loved When You Reach Me better. I suspect it was the time travel element.

    There was one thing about this book that continued to puzzle me after I’d turned the last page. Whose laundry was it? Did I miss something?

  3. Akoss says:

    I want to read it. I really, really do but my list is forever growing. *sigh*

  4. Andrea says:

    I actually liked this one better than When You Reach Me. Thanks for reminding me of how good it is!

  5. It was a Cybils finalist. (My verdict: very clever storytelling, but couldn’t quite outdo WONDER.) Your review is excellent.

  6. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-read list. I loved When You Reach Me.

  7. Deb says:

    One of my favorites from last year. In fact I want to read it all over again now, lol! I have myself thinking it might be fun to have a re-read read-a-thon sometime. Hmmm, maybe I have already said that here or somewhere. _Anyway_. Thanks for sharing this wonderful read!

  8. Pingback: A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read | Michelle I. Mason

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