Liar & Spy (Stead)

Book Reviews
Stead has such a fine grasp on the alternately base and fanciful preoccupations of seventh graders that even the occasional forays into capital-­C Cuteness get a pass.... Stead handily succeeds in keeping all the mysteries going to the bitter end. And in each case, this non-young adult was genuinely surprised by the outcomes.
Lucinda Rosenfeld - New York Times Book Review

Georges has it pretty good, but then his best friend becomes a skater who hangs with the bullies who make Georges their target; his dad gets fired; his mom has to work extra shifts; and they have to sell their house. The new apartment does not measure up, until Georges sees a sign advertising the Spy Club. This leads him to Safer, who promises to train Georges to be a spy and enlists him to help scope out the building's possibly murderous man in black. Georges is unsure about being a spy, but is also unsure about how to deal with the bullies at school, whether the taste lab will determine he is, in fact, a geeksack, and, most importantly, whether Safer is really all he seems. Stead's vibrant, fully actualized characters—determined Georges; his earnest, hopeful father; the mysterious, damaged Safer; Dallas the jeering bully; enigmatic Bob English Who Draws—elevate this coming-of-age story from typical middle-school angst to a truly quirky, memorable piece. The seemingly insignificant minutiae of Georges' daily life—the anatomy of the tongue, escaped parrots, Ben Franklin's Rules for Spelling—achieve symbolic significance as they lead Georges to a place where he can face the looming loss he spends most of the novel avoiding. All the pieces come together in a magnificent twist at the end, reinforcing the message that all obstacles can be overcome. Young readers will see themselves in Georges's frustrations, and celebrate and be inspired by his victories over his tormentors—and himself.

Seventh grade is not going well for Georges, the only child of an out-of-work Brooklyn architect and a nurse who named him after her favorite painter, pointillist Georges Seurat. Although Georges's mother has taken on double shifts to bring in extra income, the family has had to sell their house and move into an apartment. At school, former best friend Jason, who has started dressing like the skateboarder he isn't, now stands idly by while bullies harass Georges. Newbery Medalist Stead (When You Reach Me) expertly balances Georges's blue period with the introduction of the new neighbors: amateur spy Safer, and his younger sister, Candy, whose parents (in one of many hilarious details) let the kids name themselves. As homeschooled siblings, they offer refreshing perspectives on the ridiculousness of what goes on at Georges's school, including a forthcoming science unit on taste buds that the kids believe forecasts one's destiny. Safer recruits Georges to investigate and observe—using the lobbycam to track a mysterious tenant and binoculars to monitor a nest of wild green parrots—but the biggest secrets are the ones these two sensitive boys have buried in their hearts. Stead has a talent for introducing curriculum-ready topics in the most accessible ways imaginable, e.g., Seurat's painting methods become a persuasive metaphor for what Georges is going through and how he can survive it. Chock-full of fascinating characters and intelligent questions, this is as close to perfect as middle-grade novels come.
Publishers Weekly

The ending twists readers’ entire perception of the events and creates a brilliant conclusion to an insightful novel.
School Library Journal

A seventh-grade boy who is coping with social and economic issues moves into a new apartment building, where he makes friends with an over-imaginative home-schooled boy and his eccentric family. Social rules are meant to be broken is the theme of this big-hearted, delightfully quirky tale, and in keeping with that, Stead creates a world where nothing is as it seems.... It would be unfair to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Georges resolves his various issues in a way that's both ingenious and organic to the story. Original and winning.
Kirkus Reviews

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