Carnegie Award Nominees: ‘Liar and Spy’ by Rebecca Stead

‘Liar and Spy’ revolves around a pre-teen boy struggling with a family move, school bullies and learning how to play by the rules. It becomes a tale of survival and learning which rules should be kept, and which should be entirely your own.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read. Drip fed throughout is the idea that bigger things are happening in Georges (don’t forget the silent ‘s’) life that he is repressing, and that his school issues and his fledgling relationship with the spy upstairs, Safer, are masks for bigger issues he’s avoiding. Georges story is sweet and one that can probably relate to anyone who’s had to deal with a crisis in their life and not known how to tackle it, and perhaps the nature of the issue (without any revelations) shows how human worries can make even the most straightforward issue into a mountain of pressure, and only by learning to scale the mountain do we realise it was never quite as big as we imagined.

Although it is clear throughout that Georges is hiding something, the way in which the final reveal happens is slightly disappointing. There’s a section where Georges talks about images dropping through his head, but it’s more like they’ve been plonked their in the actual revelation of his real story; to be fair, I’m reading this as an adult whereas it’s presumably aimed at pre to early teens, so maybe I’m expecting adult levels of subtlety which just aren’t appropriate for the target audience. Likewise, Safer’s story was just wrapped up in a moment, which (considering the audience) suggests that anyone who cannot just pull themselves together despite crippling issues is being ridiculous, which is clearly untrue. In a way, although the continuing thread throughout this is Georges learning to survive the wide world, the subplots are a little neglected in terms of depth, particular things like overcoming bullies, which is perhaps the most transferable issue regarding real life in this story.

This is a pleasant read and we do share in Georges maturation throughout the novel, which means we feel his upset and his triumph as he learns to navigate a world which we’re still learning to cope with.


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