Liar & Spy, Nina’s Take
This is what’s so interesting to me about reading for the (Mock!) Newbery: how a book changes on second read. And when I look back at the comments on Jonathan’s post for Liar & Spy, I see that many of the advocates had delved into it more than once. My own “not personally compelling” comment? Doesn’t matter, since I’m not the reader Stead is trying to compel. On second read, understanding the story, I see on every single page clear evidence of Stead’s deliberate and distinguished craft with prose.
There’s a fallacy in trying to read this as a mystery…and the word “Spy” in the title may mislead readers a little. I don’t know why it wasn’t more obvious to me on first read, but this is a story about “telling stories.” Georges spins a yarn to distract himself (and therefore the reader) regarding his mother; his red herrings, or Stead’s, are on every page and are delightful to uncover on second read (“Mom’s yogurt drinks are missing” p. 68, etc.). He’s the liar, playing a game with himself and us, as much as he calls out others for playing games with him. That he can’t recognize the Mr. X game as a game should be telling…his father, and Safer, are pretty startled that he took it so seriously. But the *reader* takes it so seriously too because Stead has us so firmly in Georges mind…even on second read (even on first) though I knew Safer’s story wasn’t true, I *felt* like it was. How does she do that? I think because Georges is a character who sees through everyone else’s baloney so easily.
On second read, the smallest gestures so clearly advance the character in subtle ways. I love this scene, which ends with a physical gesture that is a hallmark of Stead’s writing to me (reminds me of a favorite scene in WYRM where an escorted 4th grader removes and crumples a nametag):
p.56 “It’s hard to hate him…underneath that skateboarder outfit, he’s the same person he always was. I don’t know whether than makes it harder or easier. I watch Jason tip his tray into the garbage. His bagel wrapper sticks, and he takes the time to peel it off before he adds his tray to the stack.”
I appreciate that small shifts are as important as large ones in this story. The triumph of the blue dots…Candy starting school…Georges visiting his mom…but equally important: this acceptance of Jason; or Georges asking Mrs. G “Do you really hate your job?” and thus giving up the security blanket of their game.
It’s so interesting to start comparing this to some of our other contenders: here is theme developed with a much finer brush than in The One and Only Ivan. Is finer better? A narrative that takes its protagonist to a more conscious shift than in Beneath A Meth Moon…but is that necessary? LIAR AND SPY has certainly shifted itself even further up in my estimation. Did multiple readings of it change any other minds out there?
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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