Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading ... How To Lead a Life of Crime

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just Finished Reading ... How To Lead a Life of Crime

How To Lead a Life of Crime
by Kirsten Miller
To be published by Razorbill
on February 21, 2013

Source: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley. My FTC disclosure is in the right sidebar.

Connect with the author: Blog | Twitter  |  Facebook




Summary (adapted from Goodreads):
A meth dealer. A prostitute. A serial killer.
Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.
Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?
My take:  I loved The Eternal Ones and All You Desire, Kirsten Miller's prior two YA books. They were the complicated story of a pair of lovers who have been united, repeatedly torn apart by death, then reincarnated. The story went from Tennessee to Manhattan to Italy, spanning continents and centuries.

After reading How To Lead a Life of Crime, I've decided that Kirsten Miller's work definitely has some common characteristics. There are usually multi-faceted plots, scheming villains, and colorful settings. There are themes of revenge, of lovers separated and love tested, of trust and betrayal.

How To Lead A Life of Crime also incorporated a bunch of literary references. The books starts with a Dickensian feel, following petty criminal Flick as he pickpockets his way across the Lower East Side. He's in love with Joie, a sort of Robin Hood meets Wendy Darling character who mothers a group of urchins, shoplifting new shoes and birthday presents for them and leaving a note of thanks.  Peter Pan references are a big part of this book -- Flick tells Joie's crew that Neverland is actually the afterlife and is followed around by his dead brother Jude, whose favorite book was Peter Pan. One of Joie's boys is named Dartagnan, a likely reference to the Three Musketeers and their "all for one, one for all" motto.

I really liked the opening chapters of How To Lead a Life of Crime. I was not as happy when the plot left the Lower East Side and shifted to the Mandel School. The school recruits Flick, telling him that they teach petty criminals to think bigger -- helping them transition from petit larceny to crime on a more massive and lucrative scale. Lucian Mandel, son of the school's founder, is finally able to lure Flick away from Joie and her merry gang by promising Flick something he really wants -- proof that Flick's father was responsible for his brother Jude's death.  Shades of Kiki Strike and her ring!

At that point,  How To Lead a Life of Crime began to seem like a revenge tale -- something on the lines of another work by Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. I love books with revenge themes, so I was all on board with this plan. But first Flick has to get settled at the Mandel school, having a tracking chip implanted, then learning about the school's complicated student ranking system. At this point, the Mandel School didn't really make much that sense to me and my interest started to fade. But about two-thirds of the way into the book, the real purpose of the school was revealed and the book's opening began to have significance.

How To Lead a Life of Crime is a dark and complicated book, featuring homicide, suicide, filicide, mariticide, and medicide. (Yes, I had to look up most of those.) The plot even seemed to be lurching toward cannibalism, but I closed my eyes until that part was over. Let's just say that Lucian Mandel is kind of a cross between Gregor Mendel and Josef Mengele and that the book raises a lot of interesting questions about whether criminals and the criminally insane are made or born, and about the nature of evil. Flick and Joie are fascinating characters, and I loved the relationship between the two of them. Not all the characters were as three-dimensional, but I also thought that Flick's father was very nicely drawn.

Random side note: my regular blog readers know about my interest in the way profanity is (or is not) expressed in YA, so I will report that How To Lead A Life of Crime featured a technique I hadn't seen before -- the bleep. As in f---. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Since these characters curse a lot, I guess it was necessary.

Kirsten Miller is definitely not a writer in the "less is more" camp. How To Lead a Life of Crime had a lot of plot and a lot of characters and a lot of ideas. If you're a fan of books with big, sprawling plots, wrenching moral dilemmas, and truly twisted villains, you should definitely give How To Lead a Life of Crime a try. If you prefer your books with a little less depravity and a little more swoon, try The Eternal Ones. I really enjoy her work!

23 comments:

  1. I'd seen this book but I had not recognized the author's name as she of The Eternal Ones and Kiki Strike, the latter being the only book of hers I've read. I am very interested in checking this out as it sounds different from other YA although maybe a little macabre for my usual tastes.

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  2. This sounds really awesome!! Though I think the way they use profanity seems a bit odd. I mean if it fits with the story, why bleep it? I had seen this on NG, and was interested in it, but didn't bother to request it because Penguin declines me for everything.

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    1. Me too. This is the only thing they have ever approved.

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  3. "homicide, suicide, filicide, mariticide, and medicide. (Yes, I had to look up most of those.) The plot even seemed to be lurching toward cannibalism'

    Holy Crap! I had no idea so much was going on in this book. Like the Peter Pan references too. That's my fave fairy tale, ever.

    And this from your review especially appeals to me:

    "If you're a fan of books with big, sprawling plots, wrenching moral dilemmas, and truly twisted villains"

    Oh boy, you know I am! Bumping this one up on my TBR list:)

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  4. First, I don't know if I could deal with the bleeps. That just bugs me. The book sounds pretty great otherwise. Love the running Peter Pan theme. Also, why are all characters named Lucian the villains? It does SOUND like an evil name, but it doesn't HAVE to be. :P Love your research on the types of killing...who knew?

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  5. Hmmmm, not sure how I feel about this. It sounds like there might be too much going on for me but I like that the author seems to be willing to take chances.

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    1. Her books are definitely original, which I like!

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  6. I seen this book float around , interesting review. I like the sound of it, have not read anything by that author yet. I'll keep an eye out!

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  7. oh my god... cannibalism? that is really sick actually.. I don't think I would be able to stomach that. and homicide? suicide? wow that is one dark twisted books.

    Glad you liked it in the end!

    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

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    1. Well, there was this creepy Silence of the Lambs dinner scene....
      And I have actually read another YA series with cannibalism -- the Ashfall/Ashen Winter series. When I think I might see it coming, I skip that part!!

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  8. I have been watching the 90's show La Femme Nikita and this books' synopsis gives me the same shiver of glee I get after watching a good episode. The whole taking the hoodlums off the street to groom them to be bigger and badder...I love it! Even though it sounds like there is a lot going on it is all working for me. Excitement!

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  9. I agree! I just wrote my review on this book too. Totally loved the plot twist along with the develop of the characters.

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  10. Dang it! I should have requested this book. This sounds like something I'd definitely like. -sigh- Now I have to try and fit it in sometime in the future.

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  11. I've been wanting this book ever since I read about it! I don't see many books like this one, and your review definitely made me more interested in it! I saw the movie of The Count of Monte Cristo and loved it as a kid, so yeah, I really think I'd enjoy this. :)

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  12. Wow this book sounds pretty crazy, and a little all over the place! I'm actually not sure how I think I'd feel about it... it could easily go one way or the other. But I do LOVE The Count of Monte Cristo so I like that you made that comparison!

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  13. Iiiiiiiiiinteresting... that is a lot of murder. And cannibalism is okay with me, as long as it stays fictional.

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  14. Like you, I believed this book was crazy, but the good kind of crazy!

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  15. This sounds intense! It wasn't really on my radar but I have been looking for a gritty read so I'm going to add it to my TBR list =D Great review!

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  16. I struggled with this author before previously. I'm willing to give this a try. It sounds like a book that would fascinate me.

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