Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review - Liar & Spy

Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House (August 7, 2012)
Independent Reading Level: Grades 4 to 8
Read Aloud: Grades 4 to 8
Source: ARC picked up at ALA
Friendship *  Family * Social Situations

Description 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?

My thoughts on this book:
I sometimes wonder what happens to an author's writing mind-set after they have won an award for a book that they have written.  Does it inspire them to go out and write something even better? Do they freeze up and wonder how they will ever write something again?  Rebecca Stead won the 2010 Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me.  If it had been me, I would likely not want to write again for fear of never even being able to come close to that same level of literary greatness.  I am glad that Stead did not apparently have that fear (or at least not long enough to prevent her from writing another book) and that readers are able to pick up and enjoy her newest book Liar & Spy.

Set in modern day Brooklyn, Liar & Spy showcases what Stead does well, writing somewhat quirky but real characters and the ability to slowly reveal pieces of the story that builds up to a surprise ending.  Now, how do I talk about it without spoiling the book.  I don't mean by giving away the ending, but by giving away the emotional experience of discovering the final pieces of the puzzle at just the right time.

Georges (named after the French artist Georges Seurat) and his family have just moved into an apartment in Brooklyn.  Georges struggles with the typical school issues while facing changes at home.  At his father's encouragement, Georges responds to a sign about a Spy Club and is drawn into a friendship with 12 year old Safer (a self-proclaimed spy ) and his somewhat bohemian family.  Similar to a Seurat painting, Stead takes all of the little dots of the story and combines them into something larger and more significant at the end.         

When talking about this book with friends, and well, with just about anyone who will listen to me talk about it, I have repeatedly said that this is a book that left an emotional imprint on me.  What I mean by "an emotional imprint" is this story made me feel something and also made me think about it long after I finished reading it.  Really good books should leave emotional imprints.  Even if you come to the end and say "hmmm, I thought something was up with ______ ", the way the end comes together should still have an element of surprise.  Liar & Spy left me with a sense that I wanted to sit with the book for awhile and not have other stories or emotions crowd out what I felt from reading it.  

Many friends are also quick to ask how Liar & Spy compares with When You Reach Me.  I honestly have to admit that they are really two separate books.  True, there are some elements that I think are similar because both books are written by the same author.  However, the stories are distinct enough that each should be loved and appreciated on their own.  

As I prepare for the new school year, I know already that Liar & Spy will be in the list of titles that I will recommend to teachers as potential read alouds or for literature circles or book clubs.  It will be one that I book talk to students and hand-sell the next time I am hanging out at my local indie bookstore.  Simply, it is a book that I want children to read and enjoy.  

For more information about author, Rebecca Stead: website | blog | facebook | twitter            

1 comment:

  1. I need to read this one. I picked up the ARC at ALA, I just need to move it up in my TBR pile!

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