Rebecca Stead has followed up on her excellent Newbery winning book When You Reach Me with a new novel called Liar & Spy. This well-written middle-grade novel deserves all the hype it’s been getting—and deserves great sales.
You can compare Liar favorably to such middle-grade classics as Harriet the Spy (also about spying) and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (also set in a city apartment building and neighborhood). I’ll spare you the brief outline, because you’ll find it done better than I can in other reviews.
But I’ll also spare you the brief outline because it’s really hard to come up with one that truly describes the book.
That, for this former middle school library lady, is a cause of concern. Liar & Spy is the kind of book I’d love to hand to a sixth grader and say, “It’s about X, and you’ll love it.” Ideally the conversation would take about 30 seconds.
But Liar & Spy, frequently described in reviews as “rich” and “complex,” defies the 30-second rule.
Once you outline each of its parts (mystery, bullying story, urban family drama, spy tale), the sum of the parts is simply too long. Beyond 30 seconds, and you’re losing half of your potential readers.
So, all you librarians out there, all you booksellers out there, all you teachers out there…if you can come up with a way to book-talk or hand-sell Liar & Spy to a kid reader in 30 seconds or less, please let me know.