Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Reviews: WONDER and LIAR & SPY

New and Noteworthy MG

 Just finished two MG novels that I highly recommend!

WONDER, a debut novel by R. J. Palacio, is the story of Auggie, a boy with a congenital facial deformity who, as a fifth-grader, goes to school for the first time. That mini-synopsis may not make it sound like a fun read, but it was so captivating, I couldn't put it down. The story is told in the first person from multiple POVs. Over the course of the novel, we hear from Auggie, his older sister, the sister's boyfriend, the sister's ex-best friend, a girl from Auggie's school, and a boy from Auggie's school. I felt that several of the characters sounded alike. Even so, I think the variety of perspectives worked well for this story. WONDER is being mentioned as a possible Newbery contender, though it does have its share of critics. Some feel that the characters behave too much like older teens. They are savvy and precocious, and some are  experimenting with boy-girl relationships--but, honestly, that's the reality of fifth grade for many kids. Other critics suggest that the book is unsubtly manipulating readers' emotions (though I'm not going to tell how, for fear of spoilers.) All I can say is that while I was reading, I did not feel manipulated. I cared about Auggie and the other characters, and was anxious to find out what would happen to them. The ending was a little arbitrary, I will admit, with an award bestowed for no real reason. But Wonder is an amazing book that deserves the Newbery buzz it has generated. Give it a try--I predict you won't be able to put it down either.

LIAR AND SPY, the third novel by 2010 Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, is also a realistic, contemporary MG with a boy protagonist. Seventh-grader Georges (named after Seurat) is having a rough time--he's bullied at school; his family just had to give up their house and move to an apartment; and his mom isn't around much. Things get interesting when his home-schooled neighbor starts training him to be a spy. I started this one with a bias. I figured there was no way it could possibly live up to WHEN YOU REACH ME; the bar was set too high. Luckily, LIAR AND SPY turned out to be a real page-turner. The characters are quirky, authentic, and very likeable, and there's a bit of a mystery. Apparently I checked my analytical skills at the door, because I devoured the book like a kid, and not like a writer. It seems straightforward, but be forewarned: All is not as it seems. When the muddy waters start to clear (which, for me, happened 17 pages from the end) I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it coming. All in all, LIAR AND SPY is a wonderful story, and I highly recommend it.

I'm a sucker for heartwarming novels with a ragtag bunch of flawed characters who band together and learn the meaning of true friendship.


Amy said...

So funny...I have about 10 pages left of Liar & Spy (so good!) and Wonder is in my pile of books from the library...

Ruth Donnelly said...

Amy, you picked a couple of winners! Hope you enjoy Wonder as much as I did.

Barbara Watson said...

I loved each of these. I didn't do much reading *about* either before reading the actual books (that's how I like to approach a story), so each had twists I didn't expect and grew to love.

Joanne Fritz said...

Ruth, I literally just finished reading Liar & Spy late last night! And of course I devoured and recommended Wonder a while back.

I also loved When You Reach Me so much I actually put off reading this one because I worried it wouldn't live up to the excellence. Luckily I can say I enjoyed it immensely. I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't figure out the mystery right away. I realized early on what was going on with Mom, but not with Mr. X! But now I'm wondering... whose laundry was it?

DMS said...

I loved Wonder and fell in love with Auggie. I can't say enough good things about the story (we reviewed in on our blog and were lucky enough to interview R.J. Palacio). This book made me want to be a nicer person!

I can;t wait to read read Liar and Spy. It sounds so good and the fact that you devoured it has me very interested in starting it!

Ruth Donnelly said...

Barbara, it's a balancing act, isn't it? I try to read enough about a book to know I *want* to read it, but not too much.

Joanne, yeah... the laundry. Hmm. Because Mr X was still out of town, right?

DMS, how cool that you got to interview RJ Palacio! I'll be sure to pop over and read the interview! So true about it making you want to be a nicer person. I mean, I'm sure you already *are* a nice person. But I know what you mean; I felt the same way. :)

Marcia said...

Wonder is my favorite of the year so far, and I have Liar and Spy on my TBR pile. I'm running into so many goodies right now!

Ruth Donnelly said...

Me too, Marcia--a great crop of new MG!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ruth,

I went and got Wonder from my library after seeing you mention it. Such a great book I must say. It kept my attention was was both an entertaining, and thoughtful read. The multiple POV's was interesting take too. I remember when I read the book "The Candymakers" , the multiple POV's threw me off for a second too, but ended up quite nice.

I'll have to look for Liar & Spy now.

Hope your teaching and writing are going well :)


Ruth Donnelly said...

Nice to hear from you, Jill. I felt the same about The Candymakers POV switches--at first I thought it was dumb, but it totally sucked me in by the end. Hope your writing is going well, too!