Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead – Book Review

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House

Seventh grade isn’t so easy when you’re a little geeky, have a silent ‘S’ in your name, and you have to move because your dad just lost his job. Georges – named after Georges Seurat – is having a bit of a tough time, really. To make things worse, his nurse mother started taking double shifts after his father lost his job and Georges never sees her as she’s always at the hospital. The one bright spot in Georges life is Safer, a boy his age who lives in Georges’s new building. The two of them met after Georges attends a meeting of the Spy Club, which he sees advertised on a flyer in the laundry room on the day he moves in.

Safer takes pride in teaching Georges the ways of the spy: watching the lobby cam for hours, determining whether someone has left the apartment by putting a gum wrapper in the door. Before long, however, Safer becomes an increasingly demanding spymaster to the point where he is making Georges uncomfortable. How much can – or should – Georges put up with in the name of friendship?

Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for her previous book, When You Reach Me. Liar & Spy has a very different, more realistic feel, but like When You Reach Me it is extremely well-written and absorbing. Georges makes the transition from character in a book to real, somewhat sad seventh grader extremely quickly. Your heart just goes out to him as he’s clearly having a very difficult time both at school and with his family situation.

Liar & Spy is a wonderful, realistic middle grades novel that can also appeal to young adult and adult readers that will keep you wondering just exactly who is the liar, and about what?

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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You Are My Only by Beth Kephart – Book Review

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart
Published by EgmontUSA

Baby is the only bright spot in Emmy Rane’s life, until the day she vanishes. Emmy runs into the house for but a moment, and when she comes back, Baby is nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found. Mad with grief and suspected in the disappearance of her child, Emmy soon finds herself institutionalized. Fourteen years later, Sophie is in yet another new house in yet another new town; not that moving makes things so difficult, since her mother homeschools her and rarely lets her leave the house or talk to anyone else. This time is different, though, because this time Sophie surreptitiously makes friends with the next door neighbor and the aunts who are raising him. As she begins to break out of the shell her mother has concocted, Sophie begins to learn things about her life that will change it for good.

I generally adore Beth Kephart’s poetic writing style, but her lovely prose does also have a tendency to put the reader at a remove from her story and characters, as I discovered in Dangerous Neighbors. This problem is exacerbated in You Are My Only by the fact that there are two main characters, who each have their share of narration and who are split by place and time. Emmy is a particularly difficult character to get a handle on. Is she supposed to be of below average intelligence or mentally ill even before Baby disappeared? If not, why is she so odd even from the beginning? Why is it so easy to paint her as crazy and have her institutionalized? What is with the fact her child didn’t seem to have a name, other than Baby? Sophie is a more robust character, and one who is easier to identify with, as she begins to break out of the constraints her mother has put on her life, and begins uncovering the secret of her past.

I think my biggest issue with You Are My Only is that it is written as a young adult book at all. There’s nothing I would particularly worry about in giving it to any teenager, but with half of the story told from Emmy’s point of view, it seems it might have worked better as an adult novel. Perhaps had it been written as an adult novel, the mother’s pain of losing her precious child could have been written in a way that was more immediate and less removed. I assume it is because this is a young adult novel that Sophie is the better developed character, but that seriously weakens the story as a whole. I would have liked to see them developed equally well, tapping more fully into both the woman and the teenager. That could have been an immensely powerful book, whereas this is somewhat disappointing – especially because the connection between the two stories is painfully obvious. If this story had to be young adult, Emmy should have been given an even smaller role, or none at all; as it is she simply detracts from the emotional charge of the novel.

I really like Kephart’s young adult writing when the story she is telling makes sense as a young adult book, and I think I would enjoy her writing for adults as well, but You Are My Only is neither fish nor fowl and simply doesn’t work for me. Try Nothing But Ghosts or Undercover instead.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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