For this text I will begin with the negative and move into the positive. That’s the simplest way, I think, to do a review for it.
This novel has been on my bookshelf for several months and, after a previous attempt to read it, I finally made a point to finish it. So, as you can imagine the text was not an attention grabber. Although I liked Ren, the twelve-year-old orphaned protagonist, I had a difficult time connecting with him and caring about what happened to him (or the rest of the characters). Tinti does a good job at capturing childhood in poverty. Ren is naive, likes to collect rocks and gets into fist fights with his friends – a pretty normal boy for the most part save his missing hand. The elements for character development are all there but maybe I’m too old (and perhaps being a girl doesn’t help me) to really connect with Ren. The story was a bit unbelievable but I could suspend my beliefs enough to enjoy the plot; however, the plot was predictable. When the answers behind Ren’s missing hand were revealed I felt disappointed. I don’t like being able to see every twist coming and I saw too many beforehand. And the ending is very happily ever after. Now, I do like happy endings, and not everything is perfect for Ren, but the ending seemed too good to be true (even with suspended beliefs). I did like Dolly, the good-hearted murderer (yes, the murderer was my favorite character). Otherwise the players in the plot didn’t do much to enhance the story for me. The real villains needed to be much darker and menacing. As to the prose, it is good in the sense that it is grammatically correct. But it stinks in the sense of enjoyable reading. Tinti can write very well but the prose was too standard and well, boring. I fell asleep reading more than once. There were some high moments when action started happening in which I became excited to read on. I kept thinking, ok, it’s going to get better now, but then those moments passed and it was a long time before another came along.
On to the positive. The Good Thief is a recipient of the Alex Award which, in a nut shell, is given to adult books which appeal to young adult readers (age 12-18). I can see this novel appealing to teachers who are tired of reading/teaching Oliver Twist. There are many similarities between the two novels: orphans, con-men, poverty. The depth of Dickens is hard to achieve and his work is definitely better. But I think many a ninth-grader would rather read Tinti than Dickens. I remember reading Oliver Twist as an adult and it was hard to get through. What I appreciate about YA in general (70% of the time, perhaps) and the Alex recipients (I’ve read two so far) is that the stories are fast passed, the foul language is toned down or non-existent and there are few if any “sex scenes.” These are not hard and fast guarantees but definitely factors that draw me to the genre. On top of these qualities, the Alex recipients I’ve read manage to retain an edginess – sometimes scary or unexpected moments – which I enjoy. I plan to read more in the future. I enjoyed the historical info on American dentistry and medicine during the 19th century which adds that edginess I mentioned (think cadavers). The story shows the resiliency of the human spirit and how one good deed can open the door to many positive outcomes. So, wrapping up, I liked this book for its potential to offer young adults different reading. But personally I wasn’t that into The Good Thief. I hope Tinti digs deeper into her writing well and comes back with something better.
Publisher: Dial Press Trade, 2008 Source: Barnes and Noble Pages: 327
Rating: 3 Stars Recommended Age: 14 and up