It took me a few days to recover from this one. Don’t take it the wrong way. I have so much love for How to Lead a Life of Crime! I can’t think of a book I have read the past couple of years that can even remotely compare!
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?
Reading this book caused an internal tug-of-war. As much as I wanted to fly past the pages to find out what would happen next, I just wanted to sit there and take everything in slowly to prevent myself from reaching the inevitable end. You see, every moment I spent reading was a moment I wanted to preserve. Alas, I finished this book, so here I am, still trying to grapple with all my thoughts and feelings at the end of it.
Let me start with what gripped me in the first place: the characters. The characters were all very well developed. You could tell that each and everyone had a story before they were all thrown together into this story here. Whether or not their pasts come to light, it doesn’t matter. They exist within and outside of these pages, and that, my friends, is what makes them so alive!
Flick takes us through the street of the Lower East Side before he lands in the Mandel Academy where he can learn everything he needs to become a criminal of massive proportions. If he follows through, he no longer will need to depend on his ways of a pickpocket and thief. That should suit him just fine too because that is why he left home in the first place – to toughen up. Once he becomes this hardened criminal, his plan is revenge. What better way than to be taught how when he becomes a student of the academy? And take on the challenge he does. He meets the most colourful people as well. They are students his age who have more blood on their hands than Flick could ever fathom. He quickly learns that it takes a lot more than his intelligence to get to the top. What he doesn’t expect is that it might tear his heart apart. He comes to face a war of love and hatred of epic proportions that in many ways that is hard to predict.
Joi is a bit of a mystery at first. She takes in children off the streets and takes care of them. Like Flick, she is only 17, yet she devotes a lot of her time to giving those younger than her hope. She doesn’t exactly have the means but she makes do, stealing odds and ends to make ends meet. She even leaves a form of receipts, alerting shopkeepers of what she took from them. With her heightened conscience, it’s a surprise that she has survived this long on the streets. Even Flick, who only ever loved three people in his life, where one of them is Joi, is not prepared for the whirlwind that Joi is capable of stirring.
Gwendolyn turns out to be the most complex person of the lot. She is so serene, yet commands so much respect from everyone else at the academy. Instead of taking joy in the frivolous ways of her peers, she doesn’t bother stringing anyone along. Neither does she make a show of the power she holds. Yet, she is a student at the academy, and one that is scheduled to graduate at that. Besides all the skeletons in her closet, she is a lot more menacing than she lets on.
In terms of the narrative, I liked the social commentary weaved into Flick’s thoughts, demonstrating his intelligence and character, while allowing us to understand his world and the people he encounters as well. This approach lends a lot of depth to the characters and the plot, which definitely kept me hooked throughout.
At the same time, the constant double-crossing, unpredictability of enemies and allies alike constantly kept my on my toes. I never quite knew what to expect next. Just as a rhythm has been established, there sure is to be dissonance. That’s the only thing that remains constant: knowing there will be an upset. Whatever twist comes next, it is unpredictable, and will leave you wanting for more.
I wasn’t all too keen on the last sixth of the book or so. The pace is a lot quicker as it becomes a lot more action-driven. Things become a lot more abrupt and seem to happen just so that the plot can finally come to the resolution. Also, I’m not sure if I really liked the excessive references to Peter Pan. It makes sense in the grand scheme of things but it would have been an equally great book without all that. Still, all in all, I would shove this into everyone’s faces if I could, demanding that they read it.