Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Seventh grade is working out be as unpleasant for Georges as it is for most kids. His father lost his job which meant that they had to move out of their house and into an apartment. His mother, a nurse, is never home; she spends all of her time at the hospital. But school just might be the worst. Georges is bullied and when he manages to embarrass one of the bullies during gym class, the harassment intensifies. Worse yet, Georges doesn’t really have any friends. He used to be friends with Jason, who now seems to be a part of the crowd that bullies Georges.
The move into the apartment building is about to change Georges’s life, but in unexpected ways. Only days after moving in, his father’s overly inquisitive manner results in Georges accidentally getting involved in a Spy Club. His neighbor Safer is the mastermind behind their spy plans: reveal the criminal activities of their mysterious neighbor, Mr. X. As Georges spends more time with Safer and his family, his life outside of school starts to improve. At school, Georges is becoming friends with Bob English Who Draws, an unexpected move that will lead to major changes in the seventh grade.
The end of the book reveals two major twists. The first I liked although it didn’t necessarily shock me. I felt it added some depth to the characters and their interactions. The second twist I found sort of annoying. It is the kind of twist that makes you reexamine everything you’ve already read in a new light. And I wasn’t into it. I also felt that up until the second twist the book is really kid friendly and engaging, but the second twist might put off some readers. I have revealed the second twist in a spoiler below, because in addition to changing the whole reading of the book, it may be upsetting.
I would recommend this for fourth grade and up, mainly because it was a pretty hard book.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A boy and girl secretly like each other. A taste test in class is supposed to determine your true love, because long ago a boy and girl who both didn’t taste something ( I know, bear with me) ended up dating. A kid at school made up a “gay test” that involves something to do with a finger being longer than the others. It’s a kid our narrator dislikes and he thinks this is incredibly stupid.
Profanity – “crap,” “dumb,” “darn,” “damn,” “dork,” “jerks,” “idiotic,” “heck,”
Death, Violence and Gore – People worry that a taste test can predict death because once student who had a certain outcome of the test was killed by a drunk driver. The boys watch a parrot nest and are concerned there’s been an attack by a bird of prey. There’s some very not actually scary speculation that a neighbor is chopping people up and carrying out their bodies in suitcases.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Safer drinks coffee from a flask.
Frightening or Intense Things – Georges is bullied. People make fun of his name, call him a freak. A group of boys is pretty much always bullying him at school. Georges father has lost his job and they need to sell their house. Sometimes his mother works double shifts as nurse to make more money. In the course of their “spy” work, there is some breaking and entering, which isn’t really frightening or intense so much as it is a really bad idea not to be encouraged.