Liar & Spy

 
Brave misfit tames fears in inspiring, surprising novel.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Georges, the narrator in Liar & Spy, is a middle schooler, and readers will learn along with Georges; for example, his science class' unit on how taste buds work is described in detail. The book also describes middle-class urban life in Brooklyn and explores alternative methods of parenting and educating kids (one of Georges' friends is homeschooled). Georges is named after the pointillist painter Georges Seurat, and he explains a good deal about that painting style.

Positive messages

Liar & Spy sends a strong message about the ways that reaching out to friends can help kids face their worst fears, including standing up to bullies. Also, Georges' family remains loving and close despite suffering tough reversals of fortune; readers will see that life can be OK in hard times when families stick together.

Positive role models

Georges' father is his strongest role model: The dad is going through a hard time himself, but he's there for Georges and for Georges' mom all the time. He asks George about his day yet doesn't pry. He always seems to know how much to share with Georges and from what Georges should be protected. Georges' friend Safer's parents provide a broadening example of parenting.

Violence

A couple of incidents of kid-on-kid bullying violence: A boy holds Georges down with a foot on the prone boy's chest, and a pair of boys pushes Georges and holds him against a store display. The bullies also use other, less aggressive but still physical methods to intimidate Georges -- roughly tousling his hair, putting their hands on his shoulders, walking close to him, and teasing him.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

Kids use some mean words, such as "freak" and "jerk."

Consumerism

A child named Candy really loves candy: Lemonheads, SweetTarts, Mallomars, Starburst, M&Ms.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Liar & Spy, by the author of the Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me, is a true-to-life novel about an "uncool" kid named Georges who's having a tough time at school and at home. Georges is bullied -- enough to be disturbing, but he's never in serious danger. He's also struggling to face some harsh family realities. There's a little bit of name calling, intimidation, and teasing, and minor violence at the hands of a couple of bullies (a boy holds Georges down with a foot on the prone boy's chest; a pair of boys pushes Georges and holds him against a store display). But Georges' internal emotional struggles are the most painful parts of the book. Rebecca Stead writes with age-appropriate realism and humor, however, so the book never gets too heavy for its readers. The novel also offers a particularly heartwarming, positive father-son relationship between Georges and his dad.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Rebecca Stead's LIAR & SPY is narrated by Georges (the \"s\" is silent), who has just moved with his parents from their house to an apartment in Brooklyn. Georges' family has had to cut back financially after Georges' dad was laid off; Georges' mom is a nurse and often works double shifts in a hospital across town. In addition to his family's struggles, Georges is often teased and pushed around by a couple of bullies at school. But Georges meets a new friend in his building who asks him to help spy on a suspicious-seeming neighbor. As Georges begins to understand what's true and real about his new friendship, he also starts to see the truth about facing his own challenges.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Liar & Spy is a clever and inspiring book full of original yet realistic characters. The plot twists are smart and surprising, as is Georges' way of pushing back against the bullies who tease him. Georges' relationship with his parents is lovely -- very close and supportive -- and provides a firm foundation, so that the reader is never too worried about his character.

Georges faces some pretty serious challenges for a seventh-grader, but there's enough relief in his life -- and humor in Stead's writing -- that the novel never gets too heavy. This is a warm, engaging book about characters and situations that will resonate for young readers.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Liar & Spy's plot twists. Do you like it when an author holds certain facts back and then reveals them at unexpected moments? How does that add to the reading experience? 

  • Has a friend ever asked you to do something you knew was wrong? Do you feel Georges handled Safer's requests the right way?

  • What makes the characters in Liar & Spy seem realistic? How does the book portray bullying? Is it authentic?

Book details

Author:Rebecca Stead
Genre:Friendship
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House Children's Books
Publication date:August 7, 2012
Number of pages:192
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 12 years old June 16, 2014
age 9+
 

Pretty good

I though it was an amazing book, until the ending. SPOILER ALERT It turns out it was all a game and the boy was never a spy. However, it is suitable for 9 and up. There is two or three mentionings of the ‘Mr X’ having a hacksaw in his apartment to chop people up, but it is explained that the boy got that from a film. The boy has a great relationship with his Das, and it explains that his Mum is ill in hospital.
What other families should know
Great role models

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