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Liar & Spy

Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead's new children's book is a small masterpiece.

Liar & Spy
By Rebecca Stead
Random House
192 pp.

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What better way to prepare for a new year in middle school than by picking up the latest book by Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead? With a story filled with intriguing characters and spot-on classroom and gym scenes, in Liar and Spy Stead, the author of "When You Reach Me" has given us another delightful puzzle of a novel.

Her narrator, a seventh-grader who loves "America's Funniest Home Videos" and hates volleyball, "flies under the radar" most of the time. Georges, who was named for Georges Seurat (the S is silent, leaving even his name open to taunts), must move from the house he's always known. As his dad struggles to begin a new business, Georges seems adrift, too busy to talk to his mom, a nurse, and unwilling to settle into his new apartment. From the outset, his mom's a cipher, not unlike the Scrabble tile messages the two leave overnight for each other. Maybe Georges blames her for some slight, or maybe – just maybe – things aren't exactly as they appear on the page?

Very soon Georges meets his oddly fascinating neighbors. Now he has new friends – dog walker Safer, his younger sister Candy, and their mostly absent older brother Pigeon. Gladly, Georges senses his own name will not be a topic of their ridicule. Together, with some help from Candy, Safer and Georges comprise the apartment's Spy Club, although Georges isn't exactly sure of the rules of the game, or whether it's even a game. Still, he takes his cue from Safer, who presses him to observe his own surroundings closely – the science teacher's buttons, the number of stools in the classroom, and especially a certain Mr. X who lives in the apartment upstairs.


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