Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: L is for Liar – the Unreliable Narrator

I’ve heard people discuss the ‘unreliable narrator’ for years, but I never really understood the joy or appreciation of this narrative mode – until I read Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy. (Which fabulously just won the Guardian children’s fiction prize.)

Maybe it’s because Georges is really hiding from circumstances he can’t handle, maybe it’s because of how he’s being treated at school, but you sympathize with him. And, if you reach the end of the book not knowing his status, it’s not THAT big of a surprise. Not like the other liar in the book. In fact, when you get to the end you realize that Georges has really been the spy all along.

There are many other books where the unreliable narrator is a less sympathetic character, usually for good reason. One such book would be Justine Larbalestier’s brilliant Liar. Hmm…I’m beginning to see a title trend.

The narrator, Micah, is a compulsive liar, who initially, mischeviously, fools her whole school into believing she is a boy. The lies get progressively darker from there.

There are many out there to try – here are some notable options:

I know, it’s more than 5. I lied.

More Unreliable Narrators on Library Thing

Booktalk This! Spy stories

I’ve had spies on the mind this week, as one of my favorite books of last year, Code Name Verityby Elizabeth Wein, received a Printz Honor (an award recognizing excellence in teen literature). In Code Name Verity, a young female spy writes for her life, sharing secrets with her German torturers in France during World War II. She confesses codes and airbase locations, but makes her captors find those details in a story of a friendship between two women who never would have met if not for the war. Catch glimpses of a side of WWII you don’t hear about often – female pilots and spies, the regular citizens who risked their lives helping the French Resistance, awful torture methods used on prisoners of war – but stay for a heart-wrenching story of friendship.

What if you’d like a spy story, but could do without the history?  Try The Recruit, by Robert Muchamore (Mission 1 of the CHERUB series). An organization created because “Adults never suspect that children are spying on them,” CHERUB agents are all under seventeen, and now includes eleven-year-old James, who was recruited after his mother’s death. But is he ready for the intense training, and for his very first mission?
Like the history but want to go further back? How about 1850s London? Saved from execution for thieving and given a place in a school for girls, orphan Mary Quinn thinks she’s being groomed to be a teacher, but discovers, much to her delight, that she’s instead meant to be: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee.
Want to know more about that iconic spy, Bond, James Bond? Try SilverFin, the first of Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series, in which we find James Bond as a teenager at boarding school, not yet the confident master spy, but one who still manages to get caught up in mysterious and deadly adventures.

Is spy school your fondest wish? Read your way to the Gallagher Academy with Cammie Morgan, the heroine of Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. Cammie’s mom is headmistress of the school, which pretends to be for geniuses but teaches its students code-breaking, covert operations, and martial arts…so, yeah. It’s a spy school. And it’s rad.

But what about the spies who have kids? In Jack Higgins’ and Justin Richards’ fast-paced Chance Twins series, beginning with Sure Fire, fifteen-year-old twins Rich and Jade are often drawn into their spy father’s thrilling and dangerous missions. How far would yougo to help the dad you’ve never known?
Does the phrase “spies disguised as cheerleaders” make you strangely curious? In Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Squad: Perfect Cover, computer hacker Toby is surprised to receive an invitation to a Spirit Squad meeting…and even more surprised to discover a secret message encoded in the invite. Could this squad of perfectly coiffed and manicured popular girls be hiding something?
And finally, maybe you’re interested in a spy story written by someone who really knows what he’s talking about. Traitor – in which seventeen-year-old soldier-in-training, Danny, must find and capture his grandfather (a spy-turned-traitor) in order to clear his own name – was co-written by Andy McNab and Robert Rigby. McNab has written several books about his own highly decorated experiences in the British military, but because of security reasons, he can’t be photographed face-on for his own author photo! Cool, huh?

Want to do some fun CSI/Spy related activities? Check out this TPiB: Follow the Evidence
What are you favorite spy stories?