Friday, January 17, 2014

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

12 year-old Georges moves into a new apartment building and meets a strange boy his own age, Safer.  Safer claims to be a spy and an expert at observation.  He recruits Georges to help him spy on a possible murder who lives in the apartment above Georges.  Georges is happy to have found Safer.  He has not friends at school, and home has been stressful lately, with his mom working late and his father losing his job.  But there's something odd about Safer, and Georges isn't sure he's comfortable doing the things Safer asks him to do.

I'd been wanting to read this since it first came out, since I loved Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me SO MUCH!  I mean, along with everyone else.  It did win the Newbery and all.  It's the only book I've ever read where I finished, sat there, said "Whoa," and immediately started reading it again from the beginning.  I was cautiously optimistic about this one.  Of course, it couldn't possibly be as fabulous, but probably still good.

It was good.  I enjoyed it certainly.  It did not blow me away, but it was a good read.  There was a dramatic twist at the end.  Not quite as dramatic, it didn't involve time travel.  I saw this one coming, unlike with When You Reach Me.

Georges is a lone wolf.  His one close friend has ditched him, his father's lost his job so they have to leave the house he's always lived in, and his mom has to pick up extra shifts at the hospital where she works as a nurse.  Also he gets bullied at school.  Things are not great.  Then Georges meets Safer, who immediately decides they're friends.  Georges is at first glad to have found someone who's a bit odd, like he is.  But Safer is very odd.  And so is his family.  He's got a sister named Candy and an older brother named Pigeon.  They're home schooled, but Pigeon has recently decided to go to high school, much to Safer's distaste.  Safer seems to be hiding something.  Something isn't quite right, but Georges isn't sure what it is, and in the meantime he goes along with Safer's crazy spying plans.

Georges is having a rough time at home and at school.  He's being bullied continuously.  Kids make fun of his name (even though the s is silent), and think he's weird.  Georges doesn't tell his father about this. It isn't clear if Georges doesn't feel comfortable telling his father, or if he doesn't want to add more of a burden to his father.

Georges says that his mother started picking up double shifts after his father lost his job, but she's NEVER home.  Never.  Something doesn't seem quite right there.  Where is she really?  Is she really working all these late hours, or is something else going on?

When Georges discovers what Safer's been up to, he's hurt and angry.  He feels lied to and betrayed.  He's tired of games and teasing.  Why can't people just tell the truth and stand by each other?  Which gives him an idea of how to fight back at school.  And it's not him acting alone.  It's going to involve all the other "weird" kids.

It was great to see Georges deciding to take action and to reach out to other people.  The way he gets the better of the bullies was in such a quiet way.  No big fight out in the playground or dramatic proclamations.  It was done by a bunch of people quietly standing together.  It was good to see him finally able to confide in his father what was happening at school, and to be able to deal with his fears about his mother.

There's a nice happy ending for everyone.  Sometimes you just want everything to work out OK, and it did!

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