Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime - Kirstin Miller

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirstin Miller
Genre: YA, suspense, thriller
Published on February 21, 2013
Published by Razorbill
Pages: 434
Read From: 10.2.13 - 10.5.13

Meth dealers. Prostitute. 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?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? The cover art doesn't do a whole lot for me, and if I hadn't already read some of this Author's books - and enjoyed them - I probably wouldn't have taken much interest in this one. It looks like a street-teen angst novel (and it is).

Characters: I didn't care for any of the characters, except for Lucas, and he wasn't in the book for very long. Flick has serious attitude and a pretty short temper. He's a punk, and I don't care what circumstances led him to his current life of crime, I don't like punks as protagonists. Especially when said punk doesn't show any remorse or moral struggle with breaking the law. Not to mention that Flick has a very foul mouth. I was willing to finish the book to see if maybe Flick has a change of heart; maybe he tries to better himself. Spoiler: he doesn't. He does whatever it takes to get what he wants without a single thought about whether or not he should. And I suppose that that was the whole purpose of the story, and if I had felt like Flick learned a lesson in the end, I would have been okay with it. But it honestly didn't seem like he learned anything in the end. I never connected with Joi, even though she did seem to have some semblance of morals and hesitated to do dirty work when it was required. Maybe it was because she liked Flick so much. Everyone else in the story were slimeballs of one form or another, and while I like stories that is mostly made up of villains, the Author also has to give me a protagonist that I can root for. That said, the Author did do a bloody good job of making me hate the slimes. She did almost too good of a job, in fact. There is a large assorted collection of pervs, creeps, punks, crooks, and whathaveyou in this story, and they are all amazingly realistic and horrible. However, I still didn't have a protagonist I cared about.

The Romance: Joi and Flick like each other, and Flick is forced to pretend to like Gwendolyn while he's at the school in order to stay on top. Because I didn't care about Flick or Joi, I didn't became emotionally invested in the romance. And because Joi and Flick really only seemed interested in sleeping with each other, I had a hard time accepting it as love and not just plain lust.

Plot: Flick is the son of a wealthy, button-down, upstanding businessman of society. The sort who people could never see doing anything wrong. But when society doesn't know is that this upstanding businessman regularly beat his sons when he was drunk and terrorized his wife. When Flick's younger brother, Jude, has an "accident" and dies, and his mom overdoses on drugs, Flick takes to the streets of New York City, making his living as a darn good pick pocket. Then the owner of Mandel Academy approaches Flick with a peculiar proposition. Mandel Academy is known as the most prestigious charity school around. It takes in problem teens and prepares them for an Ivy League education. At least, that's what everyone thinks. But the truth is that Mandel Academy prepares troubled youth for a life of high-end crime. Embezzlement, fraud, trafficking, how to start wars. Only nine students graduate from Mandel Academy every year, and those graduates go to prestigious colleges, where they are educated to become the next generation of CEOs, politicians, and bankers. The owner of this academy has made a bet with Flick's father: that Flick will graduate at the end of the year, as the top student. And if Flick agrees to join the academy, Mr. Mandel will provide him with proof that his father is responsible for his brother's death. Flick can't pass up such a opportunity for revenge. But Mandel Academy has a much darker agenda than Flick realized, and he's caught right smack in the middle of it. Flick will have to choose between his own survival and the survival of the other students' - and either choice could end in his or a loved one's death. The official summary really doesn't tell the Reader the actual gist of the story. And when I first read it, and having known Kirstin Miller's writing through her Kiki Strike series, I was expecting a dark comedy. Sure, there's some sarcastic humor in Flick's narration, but this is mostly a gritty and grim story which completely lacks any true laughs. The Author doesn't shy away from the dark side of the criminal underworld, and she's not afraid to make Mandel Academy's policies downright horrific. A lot of people would probably find this book disturbing; I mostly found it depressing because I don't care to read about teen crime. But it definitely has its dark moments, where there isn't a single thing to induce even a slight giggle. I kept reading because I wanted to see what the point of the story would be; how would it end. But as it progressed, it went from the realm of gritty to the realm of weird, and finally to the realm of ridiculous. [Spoiler] Mandel's true purpose at the academy is gene research. He's convinced that there is a gene in everyone that is either born turned on or off. If it's on, it makes the person a "predator," and if it's turned off, it makes them "prey." But Mandel is convinced that given the right stimuli, the gene can be turned on. His theory is linked to evolutionary natural selection. This is when I started rolling my eyes. [End spoiler]

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: First person, present tense, though sometimes it switched the past tense at odd and abrupt moments. And yes, it got a little confusing. There was nothing special about the writing at all, which with a story like this, isn't surprising. A book like this isn't going to have poetry; it's going to be gritty and modern.

Content: 38 s-words, 36 f-words, and 19 g--damns. The f-words were what I call half f-words. Rather than writing out the whole word, the Author wrote: f---ing. However, the character wasn't saying "effing;" they were saying the f-word, and for whatever reason, the Author decided to actually blip part of the word out. In some ways, it made the profanity a little better, because my mind automatically read it as "effing" and not the actual f-word. However, the intent was still there. Sex trade, homosexuality, drugs, and rape are all addressed in this book, though never in detail. Many of the characters make rude comments and innuendos, and Gwendolyn makes a lot of suggestive comments about sleeping with Flick.

Conclusion: The final showdown wasn't as ridiculous as I was expecting, but the end still left much to be desired. It didn't feel like Flick had learned anything, and I personally thought his dad's comeuppance was too convenient. When I read the last page of How to Lead a Life of Crime, my only thought was what was the point.

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, eighteen-and-up, fans of teen angst and teen crime stories.

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