Liar & Spy. by Rebecca Stead. August 7, 2012. Random House. 192 pages. ISBN: 9780385737432
Liar & Spy, the forthcoming new novel from Rebecca Stead, is, in some ways, the complete opposite of When You Reach Me. When You Reach Me has a girl protagonist; Liar & Spy’s main character is a boy. When You Reach Me involves science fiction and historical elements, Liar & Spy is completely contemporary and realistic. When You Reach Me has a pair of old friends who aren’t speaking; Liar & Spy has a pair of new friends just getting to know one another. The two books share one thing in common, however - both feature Rebecca Stead’s unmistakable writing style.
Georges is named for his parents’ favorite artist, Georges Seurat, but most of the kids in his school don’t know that, so they tease him, calling him Gorgeous and generally bullying him until school becomes insufferable. Georges’s family has also just lost their house, and they have had to move into an apartment while his dad finds work and his mom works double shifts as a hospital nurse. Only one exciting thing has happened to Georges: meeting Safer and his sister, Candy. They live in Georges’s apartment building with their free-spirited parents and spend much of their time spying on their neighbors. One in particular, whom Safer calls Mr. X, is a frequent target, because Safer says he smuggles dead bodies out of the building in duffel bags. Georges is drawn immediately into the excitement of spying on a potential murderer, but as Safer becomes more and more reckless, Georges wonders just how far he will be asked to go toward exposing Mr. X’s supposed crimes.
This book is so well-crafted that every character and every place the characters visit, including school, feels somehow magical. Stead chooses such strong, substantial details in her descriptions that the reader can’t help but visualize each sentence. I read this book over several days, riding the train to and from work. Each time I had to put the book down, I would look around dazedly, as though surprised to discover I was not actually living inside the world of the story. When I returned to the story each day, I could feel myself sliding back into the story with ease, eager to absorb every detail.
There are some twists and turns to the plot, with two major mind-blowing reveals toward the end that cause the reader to really reevaluate his/her take on the entire story. Though twists are fun, the more impressive thing is the way in which the mood of the story shifts depending on how Georges is feeling. Georges sees things one way at the beginning of the book, but when his attitude shifts after the events of the story, the very same people and situations look totally different. That kind of subtlety is what sets Stead’s writing apart, and it’s what really pushed me over the edge from a four-star Goodreads rating to a five.
I can’t say that I love Liar & Spy as well as I love When You Reach Me, but it’s not a disappointing follow-up at all. I’ll be curious to see whether Liar & Spy is also recognized by the Newbery Committee; I suspect it will turn up in a lot of this year’s Mock Newbery discussions. Liar & Spy will be available in bookstores beginning Tuesday, August 7.
I received a digital ARC of Liar & Spy from Random House via NetGalley.