I loved When You Reach Me, and resonated with its New York setting, its Madeleine L'Engle references and its whole normal-but-not tone, and have been looking forward to reading LIAR AND SPY, so perhaps I'm a pretty good acid test for whether or not this new book is going to satisfy fans of Rebecca Stead's previous work.
If I'm anything to go by, the answer is yes. Yes, it will.
LIAR AND SPY is set in Brooklyn, the narrator a seventh-grade boy called Georges (with a silent s). With his father out of work, his family has been forced to sell their house and move into an apartment, where Georges quickly meets a boy his own age called Safer. Safer is a spy, he tells Georges, and starts training Georges up in the trade. Meanwhile, Georges' mother, a nurse, seems to always be at the hospital, while at school, the bullies are taking an unwelcome interest in Georges. How Georges navigates the rocky stream of his life, and what secrets he uncovers along the way are surprises I will not discuss here, as I would hate to even marginally interfere with your pleasure in discovering them for yourself.
Georges (named for Georges Seurat) tries to take in the broad picture, as one must do, his mother explains, when viewing a Seurat painting. Close up, a pointillist work is just a lot of dots. To see the picture, you must stand back, take in the whole of the work. Georges uses this insight to help him cope with the little things -- someone at school calling him names, for example.
This is just one example of how beautifully Rebecca Stead writes, that she so easily weaves theme with character and plot. Another example is that there is a twist towards the end that is both utterly surprising, and yet utterly believable. I usually feel tricked by a plot twist, as if the writer is sneakily blindfolding me, and then leaping out from behind a tree shouting BOO! Alternatively, the twist is obvious, and a blind bat could see it coming ten miles off. In LIAR AND SPY, I admit, I was completely taken in, surprised as all heck by the twist – and yet, looking back, there was nothing sneaky about the set up. It was all clear as glass, ready for me to see. I just didn’t see it. That’s some good writing.
To read LIAR AND SPY is to find yourself completely immersed in the world of Georges, his family and friendships, but also to find yourself, as if by accident, considering huge, existential issues such as self-definition and identity, courage and fear, friendship, coolness, belonging. Yet these questions are touched upon so gently they never feel tacked on, or out of place.
LIAR AND SPY is a rare and beautiful work of fiction, and one worth running to the bookstore to buy.