Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

In my continuing search for quality audiobook content for my daily commute I came across Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead at the local library and decided this would be a great time to cross this popular middle grade novel off the want to read list. I enjoyed When You Reach Me and was intrigued by the possibilities of the follow-up.

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?

I really enjoyed this one.  It was creative and well done with strong characters and Stead’s typical skill at setting (NYC again) and mood. I was a little thrown by the twist at the end but enjoyed the build up and tension as it came together.

Georges (silent S) is a character with a great voice and Stead captures the varying emotions and reactions of this age. She also mixes in middle school interactions and life in the city.  Stead has a way of touching on universal themes and topics but does so with concrete and particular characters; all the little things that come together to make a story feel real and come to life.

The character interplay was just very well done from Georges’ interaction with Safer and Candy to his talks with his dad (and the Scrabble notes back and forth with mom and dad); not to mention his classmates and teachers. Using the intrigue of a New York City Apartment building also worked quite well. From the initial spy club meeting in the basement to the use of the intercom and camera system as a spy cam. Even the elevators played a role.

Hard to argue with the praise Stead has received:

School Library Journal

Stead has written a lovely, quiet, and layered novel that explores friendship in all its facets. She particularly examines truths, secrets, deceptions, and imagination and whether these can destroy or ultimately strengthen a friendship. The ending twists readers’ entire perception of the events and creates a brilliant conclusion to an insightful novel.

Publishers Weekly

Chock-full of fascinating characters and intelligent questions, this is as close to perfect as middle-grade novels come.

If you want to see how good middle grade fiction can be, check out Rebecca Stead,

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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