Two years ago, I decided that, if stranded on a desert island, I’d want a copy of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. The book is perfect (others agree; the book earned Stead the Newbury Medal, among other awards and recognition), which is enough to earn it a spot on my list of 10 desert island books, but when I met Stead, she added a message when she signed her book: I wish you wonder. This message became emotionally important for reasons Stead couldn’t have predicted. And When You Reach Me will always remind me of that period of time.
(Given the chance to see Stead at Book Expo America, I thanked her for writing that message, and she said that it had taken her a while to decide what she’d add when she signed copies of that book. I think I said something incoherent about how it changed my life or was important or significant or something … how do you tell someone that the words she chose became a way to say goodbye?)
Stead’s new book, Liar & Spy, might have to join me on said desert island, as it, too, is as perfect as When You Reach Me. More so, maybe, since Stead exceeded my already high expectations. Georges (the S is silent; he was named for the artist Georges Seurat, known most for his 1884 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) is moved out of the only home he’s known after his father loses his job. Georges’ mother is working double shifts at the hospital, and is only messages formed from Scrabble letters for most of the book.
Into a new world goes Georges, who soon meets Safer, his sister Candy, and their brother Pigeon. Safer invites Georges into a world of spycraft, and the two boys keep tabs on a tenant in their building known only as Mr. X. Safer and Candy are homeschooled, so during the day, Georges is not a spy, but a student who is mercilessly picked on (some call him Gorgeous, others plot his demise in a chemistry class where the lesson involves taste and tastebuds and maybe a prediction of love … or death).
Secrets, lies, spycraft, mean girls and boys, love, and a mini-tour of the best places in this tiny New York neighborhood to get candy … and unfortune-fortune cookies, collide in an explosion of things salty and bittersweet.