Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

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Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Georges has a lot to cope with at the moment. Dad's been laid off so they've had to move from their lovely house into a flat, Mum's had to work extra shifts at the hospital, and the cool crowd at school, including his former best friend, are picking on him. Then he finds himself making friends with a most unusual boy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 186 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Andersen Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781849395076

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Shortlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Georges is named after Seurat, who created his paintings by using thousands and thousands of tiny dots of colour, and in this delightful book his style becomes a leit-motif for Georges' movement from fear to bravery. His mum always tells him not to fret about the little niggles and miseries of life: they're just tiny coloured dots which help to make up the big picture. His dad sees things differently, though. To him, you mustn't turn your back on bad things. They may not seem important when looked at from the future, but they matter right now and shouldn't be ignored. Georges will need a little wisdom from each of his parents to navigate the many challenges he experiences.

This is not the usual 'I'm a loser and everybody hates me' sort of story, in which life is an unmitigated disaster for the whiny young protagonist (and in which, frankly, you sometimes find yourself sympathising with his enemies). Georges is a bright, endearing boy with an enquiring mind and a willingness to accept a certain amount of absurdity in his life. He is fairly shy at school but relates well to adults, and despite the essential weirdness of Safer, the leader of the Spy Club, he is quite willing to make friends. He is also, just as importantly, strong enough to say no when things go too far.

This is a book about lying, about a world where few things are what they seem to be on the surface. And it's also about courage — various people find, during the course of this book, that they have no choice but to face their fears. There is spying — quite a lot of it, in fac t— but few life-threatening escapades or mortal danger. This is not spying as Anthony Horowitz or Andrew Hammond might portray it: the book has a lighter, more muted tone, where the everyday is important but not heart-stoppingly scary or even melodramatic.

The story is seen from the point of view of Georges, but several other characters have quite large parts to play. And for once, in a book for young people, they're not all the same age as the protagonist. Georges loves both his parents very much, and is clearly loved by them; the PE teacher Ms Warner and the Bennie the Egyptian shop owner add humour and warmth to the story, and sweet-toothed Candy, aka Safer's younger sister, is a strong, sturdy and likeable character in her own right.

It can't be easy to write the book after the one that won a prize (When You Reach Me was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2010), not least because so many people, in their heart of hearts, want you to write the same book again. Several reviewers have criticised this book for not being as 'magical', when in fact it is successful in its own right precisely because it is the opposite. Safer is odd but realistically presented, and much of his strangeness is explained by the end of the book. Georges deals with the bullies at school, but in a way which could easily be adopted by his readers. And the one real mystery which runs through the whole book (as opposed to the handsaw-wielding murderer who may or may not live on the fourth floor) has a very real, very believable solution. This book does not rely on the supernatural: it adds a little magic to the ordinary and the commonplace.

Another book which manages to show deep feelings without mawkishness and which has a protagonist who loves her family is the charming Flyaway by Lucy Christopher.

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Buy Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead at


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Robert James said:

Gave this a try after not really being to keen on When You Reach Me. For much of the book I thought this one was passing me by as well but amazed by the last 40 pages or so - stunning, and completely changed my view on the book. So cleverly written!