Book Review of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

What My Kids Read Reviews Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead Rebecca Stead’s book, Liar and Spy, is a difficult book for me to review. As a reader, I loved it. Emotionally, it moved me to tears as I identified with the main character’s mother. She even calls her son “Pickle,” just like I do. But as a mom reviewing this book for my kids, I have to say that this is definitely a book you will want to proceed with caution. I have not decided if Liam will be reading this book.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an overall safety rating of 3 (Caution) for age 9 and up.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary.
Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/Drugs: Safe

Bullying: Caution

Disrespectful Attitudes: Safe

Gross Behavior: Moderately Safe

Language: Caution

Romance/Sex: Moderately Safe

Violence: Moderately Safe

Plot: Here is my plot summary of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead ***Contains Spoilers***

Liar & Spy is about a boy, Georges (silent s). His father lost his job, and they have had to move out of their home and into an apartment building. Georges is a loner in seventh grade who lets himself be bullied because he believes that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. He makes friends with a brother and sister in his apartment building, Safer and Candy. They are homeschooled, and have a very unconventional upbringing, but they are nice kids and they help teach Georges a valuable lesson. Georges’ class is obsessed with an upcoming taste-test, believing the results will predict someone’s destiny. As the book unfolds, you find out that Georges’ mother has been in the hospital with a serious infection, and Georges has to face his fears and live in the reality that, even though the big picture matters (as his mom says), life is still made up of small moments now (as his dad reminds him). Throughout the book, Georges’ dad is a warm, caring father, and his mother is as involved as she can be from the hospital. Georges and Safer spy on a man, Mr. X, that lives in their building. Safer tells Georges all kinds of creepy things about Mr. X, but Georges realizes in the end, that Safer was just playing a game – none of it was real. He then learns that Safer is actually afraid of most things, one main fear is leaving the apartment building. In the end, George faces his fears, visits his mother in the hospital, and outwits the bullies at school by banding together with uncool kids to defy the taste-test “destiny.” His mother comes home from the hospital, Safer ventures out of the apartment building, and Candy decides to go to school.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Liar & Spy:

  • The kids in Georges’ class thought that the taste-test revealed your destiny. What did Georges and the Blue Team realize about destiny?
  • Georges used to be close friends with Jason, but then Jason started hanging out with the kids at the cool table. Georges thinks that it is hard to hate Jason because underneath, “he’s the same person he always was.”
  • Candy tells Safer “I hate you.” Sometimes it’s easy to say terrible things out of anger.
  • Georges was really mad that Safer mislead him about Mr. X. Do you think Safer lied or was just playing a game?
  • Throughout the book, Georges refers to the Georges Seurat painting. “I know Mom is right about the big picture. But Dad is right too: Life is really a bunch of nows, one right after the other… The dots matter.”
  • Safer is afraid of lots of things, but manages to hide his fears with excuses. Georges does the same thing, pretending that his mom is just working extra shifts at the hospital. Do you think that sometimes it is easy to hide our fears by pretending we’re normal?

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • One school year, a boy that didn’t react to the taste test was killed by a drunk driver.
  • Safer drinks coffee out of a flask. Georges mentions that his father has two old flasks.

Bullying:

  • Dallas, a bully, puts his foot on Georges’ stomach while Georges is lying on the ground.
  • Dallas and Carter call Georges “Gorgeous.”
  • A bully comes up with a “gay test.” “Carter’s incredibly stupid new ‘gay test,’ which has something to do with what finger is larger than some other finger.”
  • A bully says that Georges is setting off the “freak alarm.”
  • Dallas keeps asking a girl if she will get a perfect SAT score because she is Asian.
  • Bullies keep call Georges a “freak,” and say “freaks aren’t good at sports.”
  • Bullies chant “Geek, geek, geek, geek!” at Georges.
  • Bullies call Georges “SDP” for “So Damn Pathetic.”
  • Bullies call Georges a “geek-sack,” a “big phlegmy wad of geek,” and says that he will be a “steaming pile of spaz.” (Spaz is short for spastic, meaning mentally retarded.)
  • A bully calls Teresa Conchette “Terry Conchesty,” implying a concave chest.

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Several different children roll their eyes at each other throughout the book.

Gross Behavior:

  • “Throw up” and “puke” are mentioned several times.
  • Candy explains that “‘stool’ means ‘poop.'”
  • Georges refuses to touch the dogs’ “poop bag.”
  • Bullies call Georges a “big phlegmy wad of geek.”

Language:

  • Georges’ mom tells him that things that happened at school are “classic bully crap.” This phrase is used several times throughout the book.
  • “Stupid” is used several times.
  • “Dumb” is used several times.
  • “Freak” is used a few times.
  • “Idiots” and “idiotic” is used.
  • Bullies call Georges “SDP” for “So Damn Pathetic.”
  • “Dork” is used a few times.
  • Bullies call Georges a “geek-sack,” a “big phlegmy wad of geek,” and says that he will be a “steaming pile of spaz.” (Spaz is short for spastic, meaning mentally retarded.)
  • Candy says “Geesh” once.
  • Candy tells Safer “I hate you.”
  • “Heck” is used once by Safer’s mom.

Romance/Sex:

  • “Mandy and Gabe are being careful not to stand too close because they secretly like each other.”
  • There is a rumor at the school that, one year, only two kids did not react to the taste test: a boy and a girl. They started dating in high school. “People said they got married, but I’ve never seen any proof.”
  • Mandy hopes that the taste-test reveals “that she and Gave are destined to fall in love and be together forever.”
  • A bully comes up with a “gay test.” “Carter’s incredibly stupid new ‘gay test,’ which has something to do with what finger is larger than some other finger.”
  • Bennie, the owner of the candy store, pretends he is in love with Georges’ mom.
  • Candy plans to marry someone who likes orange, since she doesn’t like the color or the flavor. She says “The whole getting married thing is kind of random anyway.” Her grandparents met one time before getting married, and they are still happy. A friend’s parents dated for 10 years, and then divorced after only being married 1 1/2 years.
  • Candy says her future husband will “have to be cute and everything… Not like, television cute. Real-person cute.”
  • Jason had a crush on Teresa Conchetti.
  • A bully calls Teresa Conchette “Terry Conchesty,” implying a concave chest.
  • Bullies shove Georges up against a potato chips display in a store.

Violence:

  • Safer makes Georges believe that Mr. X is “chopping people up and putting them in suitcases.” (It’s all pretend, but Georges does not know that for most of the book.)
  • Safer makes Georges believe that he plans to break into Mr. X’s apartment to collect evidence. While Safer is in the apartment, he supposedly finds a handsaw.
  • Safer asks Georges to be a lookout and let him know “before Mr. X gets in and murders him.” Safer says seriously, “He’ll probably kill me.”
  • Georges’ mom fainted before they moved, “Her head made a horrible sound when it hit the floor.”

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