Safer takes the spy stuff very seriously. He tells me that there’s this guy in the building, who he calls Mr. X, who is almost definitely up to something evil. He says that — evil — like it’s something he deals with every day. Just another day, fighting the world’s evil forces. I like it.
Mr. X wears black all the time, Safer tells me. “All. The. Time.” Black pants, black shirt, black shorts in the summer. He’s always moving these suitcases in and out of the building. And they look heavy.
“Wait,” I say, thinking of that morning in the elevator, “does he wear a baseball cap with a fish on it?”
Safer snaps his head around to stare at me. “No. He does not wear a baseball cap with a fish on it.”
“Oh. I thought maybe I saw him. My dad talked to a guy with two big suitcases in the elevator this
morning. But he was wearing a fish hat. It was yellow.”
Safer looks annoyed. “That couldn’t have been him. If Mr. X wore a baseball cap, it would be black…And another thing is that Mr. X doesn’t talk.”
“Wait — you mean never?”
Safer leans toward me and shakes his head slowly back and forth. He’s giving me the willies, and I’m not sure I want to be here anymore. But I’m not sure I want to leave, either.
Georges (the s is silent) has just moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, capping off a series of dismal events — his dad lost his job, his family lost their home, his mom is never around since she’s picking up double shifts, and he seems to have become the new target of the school jerk, Dallas.
Immediately on arrival, he meets Safer and his little sister, Candy, who live in the building and run a spy operation on the residents. In particular, Safer is checking up on the alarming, mysterious, Mr. X. To his amazement, and despite his reluctance, Georges is swept up in helping Safer investigate this reclusive fellow.
As Safer’s thirst to get to the bottom of Mr. X’s odd behavior increases, though, Georges grows very, very uncomfortable with Safer’s requests. With Dad already discouraged over his job, and Mom never home, Georges tries to navigate his qualms, fears, and loneliness on his own. At what point do a friend’s requests become too much? How do true friends help one another? When does pretending things don’t matter help, and when does that hurt? Georges is forced to examine these questions at school, with Safer, and in his family.
I loved this novel, by Newbery winning author Rebecca Stead. Her writing is incredible, making the book a pure pleasure to read. Packed with mystery and adventure, it’s also generous with humor. It touches on heartache and loss without sentimentality; applauds courage and orginality, displays the beauty of self-sacrificing love, and explores appearances vs. reality with very keen insight. Stead’s characters are highly original, her dialogue and George’s narrator voice are authentic, and the surprise plot twists ring true.
This story kept me utterly absorbed, and I highly recommend it for readers ages 11 and up. It could be read aloud to listeners a few years younger. The main characters — Georges, Safer, Candy, and a fantastic kid named Bob English Who Draws, are all ages 10-13.