Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Lead a Life of Crime, Kirsten Miller

How to Lead a Life of CrimeMy father never wasted his wisdom on me. But on the rare occasions when my family found itself in one room, and my father had emptied the drink in his hand, he would sometimes offer a piece of advice to my brother. 

I was looking forward to How to Lead a Life of Crime just as much as The Darkness Dwellers. It came out about a month after The Darkness Dwellers, and the plot sounded interesting. Plus, I just love Kirsten Miller's writing. "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." I left out the last sentence and a half of the official summary because it kind of gives a huge spoiler, and I wish I hadn't read it. 

I absolutely loved this book. Flick's character was really interesting; he's so conflicted, and he sees things in his head. He's also haunted by his terrible past. The book started out kind of slowly, but once Flick arrived at Mandel, I was hooked, and finished the book in one night. There's a line from the book calling the academy a "Hogwarts for hustlers" which everyone's been quoting. And that's kind of what it seems to be. But really, there's something much more sinister going on. The school is a very tightly controlled boarding school in which the students are taught every criminal thing you can possibly think of. There are a lot of useful classes that I wouldn't mind taking, although of course I don't agree with the philosophy of this fictional academy. How to Lead a Life of Crime also has some elements of The Hunger Games; after all, the competition is fierce and the stakes are high, very high, as we find out later. Everyone needs to do well, but not everyone can. Flick has his own reasons for attending; Mandel has promised to give him some important information if he succeeds, information that Flick can't live without. Literally. He wants revenge. I'm not going to give any more of it away, because the way the book unfolds is really important. You just get tiny snippets of information about Flick's past as the book progresses, until gradually you have the whole picture.

Ultimately, How to Lead a Life of Crime was just as amazing as the Kiki Strike series. Both have high stakes, and both are really suspenseful and gripping books. Is How to Lead a Life of Crime part of a series? I'm not sure, but it could be. I loved the characters in it as well, particularly Joi and Ella and I thought the plot was really great, and the book played out well. Apparently, the book was compromised, but I still loved it. I was surprised that something like that actually happened. In the tame world we live in today, events like the ones that occur in Ms. Miller's books seem so alien. But something like this happened. Whoever did it must be brought to justice. 

I knew the book was going to be dark, but I didn't expect it to be as twisted as it was. Really, the Kiki Strike books are pretty light and fun reads (they're written "for" older MG and younger YA), and they're a breeze. This one wasn't. There are lots of sexual references, really dark themes, and overall a kind of cynical outlook on life. There's also a lot of language. One thing that annoyed me about the book was that every time the f word is used (which is a lot) it's blanked out with a dash like so: f--. If you're going to use that kind of language, don't censor it! Plenty of other stuff wasn't blanked out like that, and it was just annoying. I don't know why the author chose to do that. 

One thing I did like about the format was the reverse cover thing. The cover pictured on right was presumably designed by somebody at Razorbill Books, but the beautiful cover on the left was the winner of a contest held to determine what the inside reversible cover would be. The cover on the right is on the outside, but you can flip the jacket around so that the left cover shows. I thought that was so cool and nice. I don't know what they're going to do for the paperback edition though...

I also loved the various literary references in the book, which added a lot. But you don't need to know them to enjoy this one. I would highly recommend How to Lead a Life of Crime. Be prepared for its darkness and its adultness. 

434 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

1 comment:

  1. It being about thievery - I'm guessing I'm not surprised by the dark themes to it.
    The cover reverse is kind of cool. I do prefer the cover on the right though.
    I feel like I need to be in a certain place to read this book. I must be ready to deal with whatever comes my way through this book. I have been eyeing this book so I'm really thrilled that you loved it!