Reading Carnegie – Liar and Spy

Liar and Spy


There’s this totally false map of the human tongue.

Playing with perception and perspective, Stead’s Liar and Spy is not just a book but an onion of a novel – the more you read, the more you realise! This witty coming-of-age story uses narrative ‘sleight of hand’ to slowly unravel the truth of Georges’ world, and it is only once the final page is turned that you can appreciate just how developed and well-crafted this seemingly easy read is.

Sometimes in life you just have to roll with the punches, a fact that Georges knows all too well. Not only does he have to live in modern America having been named after a post-Impressionist painter (Georges Seurat), his family have recently been forced to downsize to a small apartment in New York as a result of his father’s redundancy. Living in a new pseudo-single parent family (with his mother absent due to working double shifts to keep them afloat), life is more than a little bit topsy-turvy as Georges has to fight off the bullies at school, begin his ‘spy’ training with new neighbour Safer and discovers just what the mysterious man upstairs is concealing in those very heavy suitcases…

With a tonality similar to the legendary Judy Blume, Liar and Spy is a wonderfully well written novel, one that is ultimately full of heart but with a secret truth hidden deep at its core. The character of Georges is a middle grade Inbetweener, not a total geek but far from the epitome of cool, who is just trying to make his way in the world. Stead introduces us to a plethora of quirky neighbours, Scrabble tile messages, Swee-Tarts, wild parrots and cryptic wordplay in her novel that pits reality against the world we wish to see.

Revelling in the wonder of childhood fantasies Liar and Spy explores how children sensationalise daily life in order to deliberately distort their world view. By focussing on the sensational and living in the imagination Georges and Safer can protect themselves from a much bigger, scarier truth. A novel that is like the central Seurat painting within it – up close you only see the detail (the dots) but if you take the time to step back and revel in the bigger picture, the image becomes clear.

3 star

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