Monday, January 6, 2014

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Summary (from Goodreads):
When 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?
I don’t know why I’m so surprised that I loved this book. I absolutely adored Stead’s When You Reach Me. And I guess this took me a little bit of time to get into the story. It had a bit of a slow start, or maybe it’s not so easy to get me into a middle grade book about a boy moving to a new apartment. It’s not so long though before the book morphs into so much more than that and I was lost in Stead’s words again.
I came to love Georges (with the silent “s”). He clearly was more than the kid who struggled leaving his old family house for an apartment when his dad got laid off. He’s also the kid who gets picked on at school by the school bully. And he’s the kid who knows how to look at the bigger picture and not focus on the bad and immediate. His mom taught him to look at life as you would look at a painting by his namesake, Georges Seurat. Up close, life is just dots of ugly paint. But far away, the bigger picture is beautiful.
Who can’t love a main character who knows what people are worth being friends with? He lost his best friend when he came back from summer camp, “cool.” And instead of trying to win over the bullying cool people, Georges looks for friends elsewhere. Mean people are not worth winning over.
And my favorite character is his new friend, the spy (aka: Safer). Safer puts up a flyer in his apartment building, in effort to recruit people to his spy club. The flyer doesn’t give a date or time, so Georges’ dad decides to ask when it is (by writing his question on the flyer). And Safer responds with a time. Georges feels guilted into going to the written in time slot for the meeting because he doesn’t want some kid to be waiting on him.
Safer trains Georges how to observe things and how to spy. They have a spy mission of monitoring the goings on of a certain neighbor, who only wears black and always carries a mysterious suitcase. So between the adjusting to a new home, rarely seeing his mom because she’s always working double shifts at the ICU in the hospital, and suffering through some mean kids at school, Georges goes on spy missions.
Safer is so interesting and smart. He knows the apartment building like the back of his hand. And he there were definite moments when I was comparing him to Sherlock because of the extent of his observations about people. Safer and his little sister are home-schooled and spend a lot of time inside, and Georges immediately grows to like them. He also eventually becomes friends with the rest of the picked on (at school).
I’m starting to think this wouldn’t be a Stead novel if there wasn’t some kind of twist. And the twist here was very unexpected for me.  It was emotional and surprising in all kinds of ways. And it made me love Georges even more.
I love that all of the characters in this book were flawed in some serious ways. Georges’ dad seemed to be OCD. One new friend was addicted to candy, and another was afraid of almost everything. Another friend likes to draw all the time (especially in class), but then creates his own kind of language.
What makes this book is the characters. They are all so believable in their flaws. And Georges most grows as a main character when he accepts everyone for who they are. Between the spy missions, the interesting people, and the school drama, this was one great read. It did have a slow beginning. But, the twist more than made up for it. I give it a 9/10.

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