Liar & Spy (Stead)

Liar & Spy
Rebecca Stead, 2012
Random House Children's Books
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385737432

The instant New York Times bestseller from the author of the Newbery Medal book When You Reach Me: a story about spies, games, and friendship.

Seventh grader Georges moves into a Brooklyn apartment building and meets Safer, a twelve-year-old 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: what is a lie, and what is a game? How far is too far to go for your only friend? Like the dazzling When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy will keep readers guessing until the end. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 16, 1968
Where—New York City, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Vassar College
Awards—Newbery Medal
Currently—lives in New York City, New York

Rebecca Stead  is an American author who writes books for children and young adults. She won the 2010 Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children's literature for her second novel, When You Reach Me.

Personal Life
Born and raised in New York City, Stead enjoyed her elementary school years and remembers fondly the way to make and enjoy tacos. She attended Vassar College and received her bachelor's degree in 1989.

Rebecca Stead is married to attorney Sean O'Brien and has two sons. She and her family live on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Writing Career
Stead enjoyed writing as a child, but as she grew older she felt it was 'impractical' and became a lawyer instead. After years as a public defender she returned to writing after the birth of her two children. On her website she credits her son with inspiring her to write a children's novel, but not in the way one would expect. For years she had collected story ideas and short stories on a laptop, which the child pushed off a table, destroying it and losing all her 'serious' writing. As a way to lighten her mood she began again with something light-hearted. The creation of First Light followed.
First Light

When You Reach Me
When You Reach Me takes place in 1978-1979 New York. The story follows Miranda, a sixth grader, as she recalls the events of the past few months, laying out clues and puzzles as she asks an unseen listener to figure it out. The setting is a tiny slice of Manhattan, filled with abundant details and vivid characters. It has been described as suspense with a bit of the supernatural. Miranda is a great fan of Madeleine L'Engle's classic, A Wrinkle in Time and references to that book help add to the mystery of the novel. Three plot lines run through this novel, seemingly unrelated as the tale begins: Miranda's mother prepares to be a guest on The $20,000 Pyramid; Miranda's lifelong friend Sal will no longer speak to her; and "the laughing man", a very strange homeless man catches Miranda's attention. Publishers Weekly applauds Stead's ability to 'make every detail count' as she creates a plausible conclusion with these divergent and improbable plot lines. A New York Times Book Review called it a "taut novel, every word, every sentence, has meaning and substance. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

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

Discussion Questions
(The following questions have been adapted from an educators guide by Random House. The first six questions are based on themes.)

1. On FAMILY—Describe Georges’ family. Georges’ mom calls Safer’s family “bohemian,” but his dad calls them “progressive.” Discuss the difference. Why is Georges intrigued with Safer’s family? Georges’ mom is a nurse, and he refers to her working double shifts. What is the first clue that she is an actual patient in the hospital? Explain why Georges’ dad needs him. Why is Georges uncomfortable with their conversations?

2. On FRIENDSHIP—How might Georges define friendship? Explain what happened to the friendship between Georges and Jason. Georges feels like a loser when Jason betrays him for the “cool” kids. How is Georges really the winner? Debate whether Safer understands the meaning of friendship. Describe the relationship between Georges and Bob English Who Draws. Discuss whether Georges’ idea of friendship changes by the  end of the novel.

3. On BELONGING—Georges certainly doesn’t belong to the “cool” group at school. Then his dad loses his job and the family has to move from their house to an apartment. What does Georges miss about his old neighborhood? Contrast Georges and Safer’s need to belong. How does Safer  need Georges more than Georges needs Safer? What prompts Mr. Landau to ask Georges if he’s doing okay.

4. On BULLYING—Define bullying and talk about the difference between teasing and bullying. How does teasing lead to bullying? Dallas Llewellyn is the leader of the bullies that torment Georges. Discuss how Georges solves his problem with Dallas and his gang.

5. On SELF-DISCOVERY—Georges makes an important journey in the novel. What does he learn about himself? How does learning the truth about Safer’s fears help him mastermind a plot to improve his image at school? Georges and Safer deal with identity issues because of their names. How  is “Safer” both a label and a name? When does Georges begin to see “the big picture”? How does this change his view of himself?

6. On CONFLICTING VALUES—Georges isn’t normally a liar. Why does he allows Safer to talk him into lying about the Spy Club  meeting. In what other ways does Georges violate the moral values that his parents taught him? Georges feels somewhat betrayed when he finds out that Safer has been dishonest about Mr. X. Debate whether Safer is a liar or someone who doesn’t tell the whole story.

7. In teaching the class about taste, Mr. Landau asks, “What is the taste of the human experience?” Talk about how taste is frequently used as a metaphor to describe life? What tastes might you use to describe some of your life experiences.

8. What is Bob English Who Draws' system of spelling reform? Have some fun demonstrating how it works.

9. What clues are given that Safer suffers from some type of social phobia?

10. Talk about pointillism and the way in which author Rebecca Stead uses it as a symbol for the troubles Georges is going through.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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