Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Liar & Spy

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)

Life is lousy for Brooklyn seventh-grader Georges. His architect father has been laid off so they’ve had to move, and he never sees his mother now that she’s doing double shifts as an intensive-care nurse. School is no respite, what with former best friend Jason having ditched him to sit at the cool lunch table and with bully Dallas’s endless torments. And so when he meets homeschooler Safer, who lives in his new building and offers to train him as a spy, Georges figures, why not? Their target is one Mr. X, who lives on the fourth floor and, according to Safer, has been behaving in some very worrisome ways. Wild parrots, Scrabble tiles, SweeTarts, the Science Unit of Destiny, and America’s Funniest Home Videos all factor into this smart, slightly noirish tale. As she did in her Newbery winner When You Reach Me (rev. 7/09), Stead creates a rich world contained within a few city blocks. We visit candy store owner Bennie and experience his unique method of giving change, get a sense of DeMarco’s excellent pizza, and read the eccentric fortunes that come in the cookies at Yum Li’s ("Why don’t you look up once in a while? Is something wrong with your neck?"). Stead’s spare and elegant prose, compassionate insight into the lives of young people, wry sense of humor, deft plotting, and ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this much more than a mystery-with-a-twist. monica edinger

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