Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
This book is just fantastic – I’m so glad it’s won the Guardian Children’s Book Prize.
Georges (the ‘s’ is silent) and his parents have just moved from their lovely big house to a smaller apartment because his dad was made redundant; his mum is mostly absent working double shifts at the hospital, although she leaves him little messages in Scrabble letters by his bed when he’s asleep. He’s lonely at school too, where he’s teased and bullied by the popular gang. So when he meets a boy his age in the apartment building, Safer, and joins his ‘spy club’ (just the two of them), things seem to be looking up. The spy club’s mission is to track the mysterious Mr X, who lives in the apartment above Georges’, always wears black and carries large suitcases, and is clearly Up To No Good. But as the spying becomes more intrusive, Georges doesn’t know if he wants to be involved anymore.
This is a brilliantly written story, Georges’ voice is authentic and the narrative is full of details that really get you involved in his world – the trips with his dad to their favourite Chinese restaurant (where the fortune cookies have the strangest messages), the escaped parrots who have built a nest in the eaves of the building opposite, Safer’s ‘eccentric bohemian’ family and little sister Candy – while the suspense of Mr X’s secret keeps the pages turning and the tension high. The themes of truth, lies and make-believe are well explored, and the bullying storyline is brilliantly done; the book has wonderful messages about looking at the big picture vs the little picture, and how to stand up and make your own rules. I wish it had been written when I was at school! Definitely one to be enjoyed by all ages.