Liar & Spy By Rebecca Stead is a children’s novel that might satisfy younger readers, but leave something to be desired for older audiences. Stead has written two previous novels, When You Reach Me and First Light, and in my opinion When you Reach Me is a lot better. The tedious plot, unusual characters, and a disappointing climax makes Liar & Spy fall extremely short of my expectations.
The book is about a boy named Georges (the “s” is silent) who has just moved into a new apartment. He is really glad to meet Safer, a kid his age who lives in the same building, because he doesn’t have very many friends at school. Things haven’t been going well at home for him either ever since his father lost his job and his mom has to work double shifts at the hospital. Safer tells Georges about the mysterious and evil Mr. X who lives in one of the apartments. Safer starts to ask Georges to do things he isn’t quite comfortable with, but Georges just can’t risk saying no to his only friend.
The plot of Liar & Spy is a little juvenile. Though it is directed toward younger audiences, I expected a novel that was similar to When You Reach Me. I anticipated a novel where I could marvel and think about the plot for a long time after the book was closed. Liar & Spy unfortunately did not give me that effect. The climax isn’t spectacular, and the beginning isn’t enough to grab readers and entice them to continue reading the novel. There is a little bit of suspense build-up throughout the book, but barely enough to keep readers mildly entertained. Despite the lack of engaging activity throughout the book, I was expecting a giant reveal at the end similar to the one I was so impressed with in When You Reach Me. However, the only thing this book sets the reader up for is disappointment.
The characters actually aren’t bad in this novel. Georges is a really good-hearted and innocent character, but I kept wishing throughout Liar & Spy that he would stand up against the bullies. Safer really irks me because of his unusual personality. The way Georges just keeps silent doesn’t help my irritation. Despite the character’s personalities, all of them are extremely detailed and developed. The only character I would probably like to learn more about is Georges’ dad. Even though the mother doesn’t appear many times throughout the book, I still feel like she is a prominent character.
This book definitely has originality. The combination of all the unusual characters and scenarios may not work well, but it is absolutely something that has never been done before. Stead is always consistent about originality. The writing in this book is fantastic. I love how Stead throws in random facts or scientific things that readers usually don’t think about, for instance, the taste buds on your tongue, and make it something that readers can consider as they are progressing through the novel. Stead can take something so small and insignificant and make it into a wonderful theme, and I love that quality about Liar & Spy. Readers can connect mostly everything together at the end. Though it isn’t very exciting, the resolution is clean. Everything ties together at the end, and that makes for an ending that the audience can at least be satisfied with.
Overall, this book could have been a lot better. I would have liked to see more action in the book, and I just don’t think the plot was up to par. This book might please younger audiences, but the older readers will probably find themselves getting bored, and possibly even closing the book before it’s finished. I was expecting something as fantastic as Stead’s previous novel, When You Reach Me, but this book lacked the ability for the reader to dwell on the themes for days afterward. Liar & Spy was a disappointing novel that I probably won’t reread or remember. I would give it 2/5 stars.