Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

This is a really lovely story about friendship and being brave. It is intelligent and heartwarming, and Rebecca Stead’s writing style, quality and approach reminded me strongly of the fabulous John Green. If you’re looking for ‘John Green for a younger generation’, Liar and Spy has everything and more.

Georges-with-a-silent-s and his parents are moving house - since Georges’ dad lost his job last year, they’ve had to sell their house and move down a few blocks to an apartment building. Georges, although quite sad, is taking all of this in his stride, and quickly makes friends with Safer, another boy in the building. Safer is an amateur spy, and tells Georges eagerly about the mysterious Mr. X who lives on the fourth floor. According to Safer - who, incidentally, has a brother called Pigeon, a sister called Candy, and is home schooled (‘smart bohemians’, Georges’s father dubs them) - Mr. X only ever wears black, never talks, and can be seen carrying suspiciously heavy suitcases in and out of the building. Thus Safer recruits Georges, determined to turn him into a super sleuth.

As the story progresses we gradually learn more about both Georges and Safer, but things don’t seem to quite add up. Why is Safer so upset with his brother? Why does Georges’ mother only communicate via scrabble tiles? How suspicious is Mr. X really? And, can Georges really trust Safer or is it all just a game to him? Gradually, Georges solves the various puzzles, and discovers that both bravery and friends can come in all different shapes and sizes.

It's awesome. Safer and his family are quirky and intriguing, and despite Georges' initial reservations, they make apartment life sound quite appealing. Once Georges figures out what's really going on he is, understandably, quite upset, but by this point he's already figuring out how to stand up for himself and when, with a little encouragement from his dad, he takes a step back to assess, it becomes clear to both him (and to me, as the reader) that Safer's actions were simply misconstrued by Georges and not intended to be misleading. Ultimately, Georges discovers not only to stand up for himself, but to help others - including Safer - do the same. Perfect.

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