Author Kristen Kittscher reviews a middle grade novel for thinking kids.
If Rebecca Stead found it difficult to follow up her 2010 Newbery award winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME, you’d never know it. Her latest book, LIAR & SPY ($15.99, Random House Children’s Books, ages 9-12), is a stunningly well-crafted, moving story of friendship, trust, and nonconformity that’s sure to soar to the top of 2012 award lists, as well.
In the same spare, lyrical style that packed an emotional punch in When You Reach Me, Stead tells the story of Georges, a seventh grade boy adjusting to difficult new realities at home and school. His best friend has abandoned him for a cool crowd, bullies are targeting him, and he’s just moved out of the only home he’s ever known after his father lost his job. Georges finds some distraction from his troubles when he strikes up a friendship with his new neighbor and fellow twelve-year-old, Safer. An eccentric, coffee-drinking self-proclaimed “spy,” Safer enlists Georges’ help in hunting down the truth about their mysterious neighbor Mr. X, whom Safer suspects is a serial killer. While Georges does indeed get to the bottom of the mystery, in the process he discovers hard truths about himself and friendship.
LIAR & SPY is not for kids seeking an action-packed ride. It’s a gripping, poignant, and often funny book for kids who like to think. Its mystery slowly builds to a surprising climax and twist, but Stead focuses on delivering an emotionally satisfying resolution rather than a purely plot-based one. Her gift for exploring life’s larger questions in a way that’s accessible to kids without condescending to them makes this book an especially good pick for the classroom or a book club, as it’d undoubtedly spark great discussion about friendship, trust, lies, bullying and difference. WHEN YOU REACH ME fans need not worry about being disappointed by this magnificent follow up!