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Saturday, February 23, 2013

How To Lead A Life Of Crime by Kirsten Miller (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kirsten Miller has previously held a variety of jobs like dental assistant, publishing copywriter, advertising strategist, etc. before turning into a wordsmith. She was inspired to become a writer from a young age and had read almost all of Stephen King’s by the time she turned twelve. Her favorite Children’s authors are Phillip Pullman, Stephen King, Jonathan Stroud, and Lemony Snicket who have in turn inspired to her to twist her stories towards the darker and weirder side of fiction. She has two previously published series called The Eternal Ones and The Kiki Strikes series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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?

FORMAT/INFO: How To Lead A Life Of Crime is 358 pages long, divided over thirty-four numbered and titled chapters and an epilogue. Narration is in the first-person via Flick who is the sole narrative voice. This book is a standalone story and is unconnected to the author’s previous works.

February 21, 2013 marked the US Hardback and e-book publication of How To Lead A Life Of Crime via Razorbill books.

ANALYSIS: If you read the blurb to this book by Kirsten Miller, it becomes very hard not to be interested in it. The book beckoned me with oh-so-intriguing premise and so I got my hands on a copy and started reading immediately.

The story begins with a sly and street-smart teenager who is slumming in the seedier parts of New York City trying to toughen himself for a Herculean task that he has to accomplish. He goes by the moniker of Flick and is desperate to emulate his father to turn in to a hardened diamond. He hangs out with a girl named Joi who is a Mary Poppins figure and helps the meek among the runaways. He however leaves her when he gets an opportunity to join the Mandel academy for the gifted; this school is like the Hogwarts for people with nefarious talents with a major Hunger Games-like enforcement. He tries to gauge what the school principal’s angle is, in allowing him to join the academy and why he should strive to graduate. Flick is also wary as his brother Jude who appears to him as Peter Pan doesn’t want him to join but Flick decides to follow the path of moral ambivalence. This step thus allows him to do whatever is necessary to become crude and violent enough to do what he plans.

The next step amidst his plan is to find out the truth about Mandel academy, its alumnae and the path that leads to his final reckoning with his patriarch. Flick however doesn’t know the many pitfalls in passing out of Mandel academy and the many sacrifices he will have to give to steel his resolve. There are many surprises in store for the protagonist and the reader and is the final culmination of the tale that resolves all the mysteries that sprout within.

The best part of the story for me was the plot setting and the blurb, as the reader is introduced to this exciting and dark [YA level] story that showcases a world wherein the nefarious are being trained for the next level. As a reader, this is a tremendously cool setup and full points to the author for coming up with it. The next plus point for the story is its fast pace that constantly sweeps the plot threads in a forward manner and make it exciting all the way to the final twists of the tale. Lastly the author has to be lauded for making this into a standalone story and not dragging it out over several volumes. Amid the era of series, this standalone story makes it a good investment of time for any new or old readers.

Now these were the points that I liked about the story unfortunately my overall experience wasn’t an entirely fun one because of the following factors that depreciated the read. One of the main reasons that I didn’t like about this story was the uneven characterization. Beginning with our main protagonist Flick who is shown to be struggling in the first third then suddenly becomes this uber-cool fantastic student that crushes everyone and is great at everything and then in last third again does a turn-around to become a semi-confused persona. Then there’s Joi who surprisingly turns out to be the best at everything and is the Mary Sue for this story. Following on with this trend there are the antagonists Gwendolyn who’s supposed to be this ultimate badass but comes across as unhinged and weak. The main villain is also a mastermind who gets fooled ridiculously at crucial turns. This was especially disappointing as the villains became caricature-ish and thus the predictability of the story become apparent to the most novice readers.

This is one of the aspects of the YA storyline that I don’t understand exactly. The cool concept which isn’t properly explored perhaps considering the YA nature of the book This was the most frustrating part about this story that while it seemed that the author had this fantastic idea/plot but the execution faltered majorly for the story to fall into the category of “could have been awesome but…” stories. Perhaps I’m not so familiar with YA stories and how they are executed but in this book I was more than waiting to be surprised. However the ending came and my expectations took a downward turn. The climax while not so surprising becomes a bit comical in regards to the solution about the Mandel Academy?

The author does try her best to come up with a twist of sorts in regards to Flick’s revenge plotline and however the overall predictability of the climax makes it a moot point of sorts. In this regard, my opinion of the book is a subjective one and it will be up to the readers to see how they find the story. I think this could have been a fantastic piece but ultimately went sideways for me. Lastly one good thing about the story is that it ends on a poignant note of sorts and perhaps the author can also explore the characters in a future book for those who did enjoy this story and want to know more about the characters and world.

CONCLUSION: A fantastic idea that intrigued me however the book didn’t hold up to the impressive happenings as promised in the blurb. How to Lead A Life Of Crime is a book that will finds its fans and detractors, sadly I find myself leaning towards the latter camp and couldn’t really enjoy the story as it was written.

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