Flick is a boy who lives on the streets. And he’s…a force to be reckoned with. He’s a thief who tries to help people occasionally – he still takes money, but from the first moment you meet him, you see that he’s got a bit of a hero complex. He’s layered, he’s emotionally damaged, and he’s living on the streets because he’s had some MAJOR family drama. You really want to give him a hug right away.
Luckily, Flick’s girlfriend Joi (pronounced Joey) is there to give the hugs. She’s sweet, compassionate, and totally take-no-prisoners. She takes in street urchins and tries to help them, which Flick doesn’t approve of, but he still totally loves her. Joi is incredibly well drawn – even though we don’t hear that much about her, we know why Flick loves her. Unfortunately, Flick is terrified of hurting her and hurting himself, so he’s planning to leave her any moment.
The perfect moment comes up when Flick is tapped by a guy named Lucian Mandel to attend a special school for street kids. The school basically teaches people to be white-collar criminals – and it’s kinda crazy. Flick is not interested, but Mandel has some information that Flick really, desperately wants in order to fulfill what Flick feels is his duty in life. In order to get that information, Flick agrees to be a student at Mandel Academy. In doing so, he discovers the seedy underbelly of New York’s corporate criminals, and whether he can stomach everything that Mandel Academy is in order to pursue his duty.
Confession: I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. I couldn’t remember the synopsis when I first started reading, so when I started, I wasn’t sure if the protagonist was a boy or a girl. It didn’t even matter. I was immediately drawn in to the rich, dark atmosphere of Flick’s New York: a dark, dank place full of petty thieves and people looking out for themselves.
Sadly, the above is pretty much all I can tell you about the plot and characters without spoiling anything. Seriously, you do NOT want me to say anything else. This book is chock-full of twists, and every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, Miller would throw another thing at me. She also revealed things way earlier than I expected her to, keeping me guessing at every turn. I honestly did not know how this one was going to end, or even where the next chapter was going to lead me.
Even though this is a contemporary book, it has a lot of themes similar to dystopians like Divergent – with a dash of Lois Lowry’s The Giver on the side. It’s fascinating to see how the students at that school conduct themselves, work together, and are taught. Every detail of Mandel Academy was well-thought out and pretty interesting, and the world of the Academy is a bit like Dauntless headquarters.
Miller’s writing was clean and crisp, with seamless descriptions that fit perfectly with the voice of Flick. Frankly, I’m always impressed when a writer is able to write in the voice of the opposite sex. Here, I was blown away by how perfectly Miller captured Flick. He’s damaged and intense, but dude is tough and compassionate, too. You really, really feel for him and want to help him. Also, there are some funny and awesome lines in there for people who are big fans of geeky stuff like comic books and Star Wars. =P
The only thing I didn’t love in this book was that it was way too long. There were definitely a few scenes that I felt were unnecessary to the plot and dragged the pacing down. But I’ve heard that the final version of this book is almost 60 pages shorter than the ARC, so I hope they made some good cuts to keep things moving.
There aren’t a ton of popular contemporary YAs out there with amazing male protagonists. This one will appeal to guys, girls, anyone who loves dystopian books, and anyone willing to look into the face of evil. Seriously, this is a pretty dark and intense read, but I promise, if you’re into that, this book will reward you.
It’s All About the Boys: I haven’t read a lot of YAs with male protagonists, and I’m happy to say that this one delivered ALL of the goods. Flick is unerringly male, but not in a way where I felt bonked over the head by it. I really liked and believed his voice and motivations.
Hogwarts Award for Special Schools: I have a thing for books with weirdo schools that teach crazy things – think Gallagher Girls. Mandel Academy is the darker, crazier version of those. In fact, when discussing the book with Ardo from A.A. Omer, I called this school “Blackthorne”
Training Montage: There isn’t one per se, but the whole thing felt a bit like Divergent. There’s lots of action, punches and kicks, and pretty much everything you need for…
The Final Word
How to Lead a Life of Crime completely blew me away with its complex characters, stellar writing,
stunningly fresh concept, and fast pace. The writing is fantastic, and it’s definitely worth your time if you like dark contemporaries or dystopians.