I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
Published by Razorbill Books on February 21st 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller/Suspense, Young Adult
Amazon・ Good Books・Book Depository
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?
This is the first novel that I’ve read from this author and I have to say that I am very impressed. I don’t usually seek out crime, mystery or thriller/suspense novels, but I’m really glad I had an opportunity to read this one. There aren’t many books where I can say I have almost nothing to complain about. And even though I’ve finished the book weeks ago, I still have nothing but high praises for it. Simply put, How to Lead a Life of Crime had fantastic writing, realistic characters and old fashion, damn good plotting.
When I first read the blurb for this book, I’ll admit to having pretty low expectations. I thought it would take on more of a humor angle, though I’m not exactly sure why I initially thought it would. The blurb took on a lot of serious topics that I thought, “Surely, this must be from a comic standpoint?” And I’d be wrong. But what I didn’t expect was for Miller to take on a few major social issues and make them relevant to the teenage audience. And guys, she did this so well! First off, the main character is a guy and get this. HE SOUNDS LIKE A GUY. Not once did I feel like he was hiding ovaries from me. This made me rejoice because his authenticity, flaws, struggles, passions all felt so much more realistic to me. Flick is a character with very real problems. He’s a homeless pickpocketer who was raised by an abusive, rich father. On the outside, it looked as though he had everything, but his entire life fell apart when both his mother and brother died. Flick blames his father and swears to one day make him pay. What happens afterwards is a plot so tightly woven, it made my head spin.
But back to the social issues: The backdrop of the story is about Mandel Academy. To average, everyday folk, the school is praised as one of the best schools a youngster can attend. All graduates attend the best colleges and get the highest paying jobs. It’s a highly coveted school and secures futures for kids that may have otherwise not been allotted such a luxury. Or so that’s the image painted. What Mandel Academy really hides is its shady ways of criminal activity. The school essentially molds these kids into a bunch of crazies that can be controlled and set into positions of power all over the world. The scary thing is… I could totally see this as a realistic possibility. Miller carefully planted the perfect “what if…” seed by way of her excellent world building. It’s easy to expect a certain level of world building for fantasy novels, but it’s equally important for contemporary since it’s set in a setting that is relevant to you. I really think it was done perfectly here.
I mean, think about it. Politicians regularly are considered to be bought out by corporations or seemingly operating with someone else’s interests in mind. Would it be so much of a stretch to think there could be a bigger organization at work here to keep the little people down? Influencing who gets voted into office? Approving and denying certain products and services? Am I starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist? Wait. Don’t answer that last one. The point is: It was all believable. Maybe not as I’m trying to explain it, but as I read further and further, I started to think, “Wow. This could totally happen.”
What I also loved were the side characters and how big of a role they played in the entirety of the novel. Miller had a running theme of “No one is worthless” and that certainly applied to how she herself chose to use all her characters. Like Flick, I had written off Joi as just the girl he left behind. I knew from the blurb she would make a reappearance. But I did not expect her to make a come back and kick so much ass in the process. The girl was viciously badass. I thought I loved Flick and how well he had the Academy figured out, but then Joi came along and stole the spotlight. It really gave Flick some well-needed vulnerability because for a while he started to feel as unstoppable as June and Day from Legend. (In fact, I’d highly recommend How to Lead a Life of Crime to Marie Lu fans.)
And then there is the villain. Like, whoa. I can’t really go into so much detail because of spoilers, but it was very three-dimensional. Even in the end, the villain always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming because it’s slowly revealed to the reader as the novel goes on, but you never realize the extent of the crazy until the final chapters. Flick faces so many “demons” in this book that there were times I was unsure if he could do it. I was genuinely worried for his life and felt so invested that he’d be okay. Dare I say I was on the edge of my seat? The anticipation was built just right thanks to the perfect pacing and action packed quality.
If there is one and only complaint I have, it’s that whenever the f-bomb is dropped it’s cut out of the book and instead appears like “f—“. I don’t know if that is just the ARC I was reading or if the finished copy was the same way, but it did bother me a bit. But that is a relatively small negative in comparison to everything else this book does right.
The writing was excellent, the dialogue was smart and witty, the plot was air tight and the characters carefully planned. It’s the novels that you aren’t expecting that completely surprise you. How to Lead a Life of Crime is one of them. If it’s not on your to-read list now, it should be.
Side note: Weirdly enough, the finished copy was compromised. Though it is unknown, someone altered passages and added typos. It’s alluded that the book has enemies, which adds another level of creepiness given the book’s premise. You can find out more about that here. EDIT: The book originally did have typos, so the publisher decided to play into the conspiracy theory tone for fun.
*Unsolicited ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review.