Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, 2012
Liar & Spy is Stead's third book, her first and best known being When You Reach Me. Liar & Spy is an equally good story, although it has no science fiction or fantastical elements, and is perhaps best described as realistic fiction.
Georges (the S is silent, like the painter) is pretty much your average middle school kid, although perhaps a bit more mature than most of his classmates. Especially those who insist on pronouncing his name as 'gorgeous'. However, this is not his biggest worry at the moment -- his father has recently lost his job, forcing the family to sell their house and move into an apartment. And the apartment comes with some odd neighbors, particularly a boy who considers himself to be a spy and would like Georges help.
Safer is convinced that one of the men in the apartment building is... villainous. What exactly he does that is so awful is a matter of some speculation, but he dresses all in black, carries large suitcases in and out of his apartment, and keeps odd hours. So Safer, with the help of his younger sister, and now, Georges, has started the Spy Club.
Georges has his hands full dealing with bullies at school, his mother spending all of her time pulling double shifts at the hospital, the unexpected rigors of spy training... and some stuff that you'll have to read the book to learn about.
Which is all kind of beside the point. The life and times of Georges are pretty cool, and he bounces from discussions in spelling reform to viewing the feral parrots of New York to the recipe for perfect scrambled eggs with no warning but considerable interest. Georges' situation is interesting, and Stead's writing makes it more so, but the world that Georges lives in is more interesting yet, and all the more so because it is actually the world we all live in, even if some people don't seem to notice it.
This is an excellent read, easily as good as When You Reach Me. I expect that readers who enjoyed her first book will enjoy this one just as much, whether or not they were originally attracted to When You Reach Me for the SF elements, the (admittedly mild) historical fiction aspect, or simply the Newbery Medal icon, none of which are found in Liar & Spy. Stead's strength is in writing interesting characters living in an interesting world, and all other aspects of the story take a backseat. It is, however, probably worth noting that the twist ending is apparently going to be a Stead trademark.
This is a children's book, and it is generally recommended for Middle School readers (approximately ages 11-13), but it is easily enjoyable by readers both older and younger. At 180 pages it is an easy read, and the only downside is that it is indeed light reading for an adult.
Accelerated Reader Level: 3.8