Review: Liar and Spy

by Ross Grainger
by Ross Grainger

A triple word winner of a book.


Winner of the 2013 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal, Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead, is set in the author’s hometown of New York City. It’s “the same square mile of Brooklyn where I’ve lived all my life,” says the story’s narrator and protagonist, Georges. Yes, that’s right, Georges with an S, as in Georges Seurat, the 19th century French neo-Impressionist painter. “Here’s a piece of advice you will probably never use,” says our middle school hero: “If you want to name your son after Georges Seurat, you could call him George, without the S. Just to make his life easier.”

Liar and SpyNo, life isn’t straightforward for Georges. Not hard; he has loving and devoted parents and a bright mind. Sadly, though, his first name and lack of athletic ability make him a target for the crude school bully, Dallas. Adding to the hurly-burly, Georges’ family have left their home for a flat to save money after his father is made redundant. It is in this new building that Georges makes the acquaintance of the mysterious and oddly-named Safer and his siblings, Candy and Pigeon. Safer leads Georges into a world of secrets and espionage, but the biggest deception of all will leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Liar and Spy is about the confusion and misconceptions of early adolescence. “There’s this totally false map of the human tongue,” says Georges in the opening line of the story. The on-going exploration of the human taste mechanism builds to a climax that makes Georges and his classmates confront the meaning of ‘normal’ and the mark of a good friend. Meanwhile, as the “classic bully crap” continues, Georges remembers the advice of his mother. She tells him that, as with the copy of Seurat’s A Sunday On La Grande Jatte that hangs in their living room, the key is to look at the big picture.

So, there are financial difficulties, bullying, new friends, lost friends and a dark adventure to boot. That might seem enough for 208 pages, but Stead also manages to weave in plenty of oddball humour, touching moments and a homage to New York’s culinary delights. This is a smart and fresh story that will intrigue and amuse young teens.

Rebecca Stead has some other great books published by Andersen Press, find them (including her latest novel Goodbye Stranger) on our website now!

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