Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Release Date: February 21st, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like the cover art but I feel they could have done more with the graffitti concept.  It isn't something that would jump off the shelves for me.  I do, however, really appreciate the quality of the physical copy.  The slipcover paper is thick and has an almost gritty feel to it and I love that little surprise when I grab a book off the shelf and it feels different from everything else. 


How to Lead a Life of Crime is not at all what I expected.  Like many reviewers, I had anticipated that the author would approach this topic from a humorous point of view.  Instead, we have a story that include some incredibly dark elements.  Our main character, Flick, comes from an abusive household.  He is living on the streets after the death of his younger brother, Jude.  Flick is an accomplished pick pocket appears to be trying to prove something to himself.  He is close to another homeless teen, Joi (pronounced Joey), who runs an unofficial shelter for kids but still keeps her, and all others, at arms length.  Flick's greatest desire is revenge on his father, the man who beat him mercilessly and who, Flick believes, killed Jude in a fit of rage.

The story plays out at the prestigious Mandel Academy, a school that, on the outside, appears to be a safe haven for impoverished youth but, in actuality, is a prison that requires them to become predators to survive.  The school intends to benefit from "saving" these children by putting their new found criminal skills to use in order to gain an even tighter stronghold on the resources of not only the country, but the entire world.  Flick joins the school with the aim of surviving long enough to get intel on his father and then insure the man's destruction.  What he doesn't count on is the horror and depravity that he will discover within the walls of the Academy.

How to Lead a Life of Crime features some really fantastic characters.  Flick has some major flaws but is a kid that you can truly root for.  He has had a horrific childhood and survived to become a very strong and independent teenager.  I particularly enjoyed the hallucinations (possibly...) in which he saw his little brother as Peter Pan. 

They add a mysterious element and a touch of whimsy to an otherwise very dark novel and they allowed a setting in which we could see how vulnerable Flick truly was.  Despite how much I enjoyed Flick and despite all of the arguments to the contrary, he was a bit slow.  It seems to take him a great deal of time to realize the depth of depravity of the headmaster of the school and the lengths to which he is willing to go to secure his position.  And this, is where Joi comes in.  Joi is, quite literally, a joy.  Upon entering the school, she is able to see, very quickly, where the weak points are and how she can exploit them for her own aims.  The change in character from her commune to the school is remarkable - suddenly, she is strong, independent and can kick some serious ass. 

Her return to the story is a real turning point and I couldn't help waiting for a snappy 80's music montage as she cleaned house!  I will admit, the background characters in the book were a bit static.  Many of them blended together and I could never seem to remember which wolf was which, which, in the end, didn't appear to matter much. 

The pacing in this book is fantastic.  The first half builds on intrigue and is able to provide the reader with enough background on the school to understand its inner workings, without bogging us down with monologues.  The second half is where the action really picks up.  We have a great deal of plotting behind the scenes and lots of twists and turns.  Just when you think you have the plot figured out, the entire world turns on its ear and you realize you have no idea what is going to happen.  We are also allowed the chance to experience some major character growth, especially in Flick, and an overwhelming theme that, despite all appearances and stereotypes, everyone has value.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Allusion to sex, no descriptions.
Violence: Attempted rape, Hand to Hand Combat, Kidnapping, Murder by very Violent Means, Mutilation of Corpses
Inappropriate Language: Bastard, Jesus, Faggot, Shit, Piss, Bitch, Douchebag
Substance Use/Abuse:Underage Drinking, Prescription Drug Abuse,


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