LIAR & SPY

A seventh-grade boy who is coping with social and economic issues moves into a new apartment building, where he makes friends with an over-imaginative home-schooled boy and his eccentric family.

Social rules are meant to be broken is the theme of this bighearted, delightfully quirky tale, and in keeping with that, Stead creates a world where nothing is as it seems. Yet the surprises are meticulously foreshadowed, so when the pieces of the puzzle finally click in, the readers’ "aha" moments are filled with profound satisfaction. When an economic downturn forces Georges’ family to move out of their house and into an apartment, it brings Georges into contact with Safer, a home-schooled boy about the same age, and his unconventional but endearing family—and a mystery involving their possibly evil neighbor, Mr. X. At school, Georges must grapple with another type of mystery: why his once–best friend Jason “shrugged off” their lifelong friendship and suddenly no longer sits with him at lunch. Instead, Jason now sits at the cool table, which is controlled by a bully named Dallas, who delights in tormenting Georges. It would be unfair to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Georges resolves his various issues in a way that’s both ingenious and organic to the story.

Original and winning. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-73743-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has somestandards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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Light on gore and corpses; otherwise a full-bore, uncomplicated shriekfest.

VACANCY

Does anyone who volunteers to spend a night in a derelict haunted hotel on a dare deserve what they get?

“The hotel is hungry. And we aren’t leaving here until it’s fed.” In what reads like a determined effort to check off every trope of the genre, Alexander sends new arrival Jasmine, along with two friends and several dozen other classmates, to the long-abandoned Carlisle Hotel for the annual seventh grade Dare—touching off a night of terror presided over by the leering, autocratic Grand Dame and complete with sudden gusts and blackouts, spectral visions, evil reflections in mirrors, skeletons, a giant spider, gravity reversals, tides of oily black sludge sucking screaming middle schoolers down the drain, and so much more. (No gore, though, aside from a few perfunctory drops of blood from one small scratch.) The author saves a twist for the end, and as inducement to read alone or aloud in the dark by flashlight, both his language and the typography crank up the melodrama: “He walks toward us, past the mirror, and I see it— / a pale white face in the reflection, / a gaunt, skeletal grimace, / with sharpened teeth / and hollow black eyes, staring at him / with its mouth / wide / open / in a scream….” Jasmine presents White; her closest friends are Rohan, whose name cues him as South Asian, and Mira, who has dark skin.

Light on gore and corpses; otherwise a full-bore, uncomplicated shriekfest. (Horror. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-70215-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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