How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
Published February 21st 2013 by Razorbill
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?
Full disclosure: I actually have no clue where my copy of How to Lead A Life of Crime came from. I was sorting through my bookshelf the other day and came across it; I know I didn’t receive it from the publisher because then it would’ve been in a special and shamefully big stack in a separate part of my bookshelf. I’ve never won any giveaways, and it’s an ARC version so it’s definitely not something I picked up at the bookstore. But I digress.
I really liked the premise of this one – one glance at the synopsis, and it’s hard not to want to read this book. The early chapters of How to Lead A Life of Crime, following Flick pre-Mandel Academy, lived up to my synopsis-formulated expectations. It’s brash, quick, and engaging. I loved the set-up, Flick’s voice, and all the references to literary works and movies – I especially liked the whole Peter Pan thing that carried forward into the rest of the story. Flick’s interactions are charged and exciting, and part of me was going “Flick no,” but a much louder part of me… Let’s just say that I’m the kind of person that’ll tell you all about what a bad and dangerous idea I think it is, but eventually, I’ll find myself dragged along anyway.
Then we got to Mandel Academy, and How to Lead A Life of Crime lost most of it’s shine. The biggest problem I had – and this is going to sound super bad given all the things the students have gone through, but hear me out – is that How to Lead A Life of Crime couldn’t convince me to care. At the beginning, Flick was this struggling, messed-up guy, rather bitter and strong, but then suddenly he steps inside the academy and he’s flawless and perfect at everything and he’s got everything going for him. Suddenly, magically, everything goes his way. Even the things that appear not to. The rest of the characters are just as bland. There’s Joi, admirably kick-ass when her page-time allows, who I gather is supposedly the Wendy-type figure, and Jude, Flick’s brother, who does give some depth to his character, but doesn’t ever linger long enough to solidify anything. There is, of course, Flick’s obligatory backstory, which I’m still rather lost about (all I’ve gathered is that his father’s an asshole, but not really, but really). And there are other characters too, of course, but they flicker on by too quickly for me to catch. They’re given a name, some choice words to describe their personality, and then they’re gone again. Actually, I was writing this review and realized that in my confusion I’d combined some of the characters together in my mind. Skimming through again, and there’s Lucas, whose relationship with Flick I rather liked, and Gwendolyn, who would’ve been fascinating had the author truly taken advantage of all the paragraphs dedicated to her to properly flesh out her character.
But that just proves my point: none of the characters are truly memorable, or are impactful in any way. They just come and go with the pages.
The same applied for the story. I feel like the author tried to cover too much, and ended up covering very little. There were a lot of worldly problems addressed in How to Lead A Life of Crime, but the book never really got anywhere with them, and even almost suggests that blowing up the school would put a stop to all of that, which I think is a serious underestimation of the depth of those issues. I mean, I get that the whole point of Flick’s choice was that there’s always another way. But if you’re going to show that “other way,” then shouldn’t you flesh out the problem and the two presented options first, instead of skimming all three, then plunging straight into the last?
So, in summary, I was a huge fan of the first part, but not a huge fan of what followed. A great idea in theory, but not so much in execution – the last 300 or so pages was a rather dull wade-through.