I sometime ago I read Rebecca Stead's award winning When You Reach Me. I intended to write a review of that book but time got away from me. I still owe you a review. I also read Liar and Spy, again intending to write a review, and promptly forgot. This week I re-read Liar and Spy and am finally reviewing it. I read First Light, too, and will review that later.
Liar and Spy is a little slower novel than When You Reach Me, and deals with middle school angst -- can we ever get enough of that?
Of course not, because every year new bright eyed bushy tailed elementary school graduates or promotees stumble into middle school and are thrust into an alien world. If it's at all like my daughter's school, sixth graders are sheltered. It's not until they move into seventh grade that the real bullying, name calling, pranking, and put downs gear up. By eighth grade all you can think of is get me out of here alive. High school can't be worse than middle school. But it is for some kids. What you need is a group of friends, or a posse.
At any rate, Georges is already in the midst of it all in seventh grade. He's stuck with a name that invites bullying and pranking: he's named after Georges Seurat, which means his name isn't pronounced in American English or even British style, but in French style, with a softer "G" and the silent "s" at the end. It's just too much to resist, so the "real cool" bullies call him "Gorgeous" and so it goes. Georges also deals with problems at home. His Dad lost his job so they lost their house and moved to an apartment building. Then his Mom had to work double shifts at the hospital, so Georges rarely sees her. His best friend Jason abandons him for the "cool crowd."
In the new apartment building Georges meets a quirky family with a son his age named "Safer," also a daughter named Candy and an older son named Pigeon. As you can see, names are important. Georges soon finds out that the kids sort of "named" themselves. Candy loves candy, Pigeon loves pigeon, and Safer? Well, the reason for his name comes up later in the book.
The plot of the story involves a mysterious Mr. X, whom Safer and Georges spy on. What nefarious goings on take place in Mr. X's apartment? Georges and Safer get all caught up in the "Spy Game." What's real and what's a lie? This doesn't get all sorted out until the end of the book. To me the best part of the story is how Georges builds his circle of friends and how they survive the harassment from the school bullies. There's much more to this story.
Georges and Safer both deal with heavy problem, Georges learns how to keep himself together even when his life is falling apart around him. I highly recommend this book to middle schoolers who face issues of loss, disillusionment, trust, friendship, betrayal, life's bitterest lessons, and all the problems faced by middle schoolers everywhere.
Rebecca Stead has written three novels for children:
When You Reach Me
(A New York Times bestseller, and winner of the Newbery Medal and the
Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction);
Liar & Spy, a New York
Times bestseller and NYT Book Review Notable Book for Children; and
First Light, a Junior Library Guild Selection and a New York Public
Library Best Book for Teens. Rebecca lives in New York City with her
Tags: Middle school, teen angst, liar, spy, friends, names, Mr. X