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How to Lead a Life of Crime



School-for-criminals mystery turns very dark and violent.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This book is a mystery for entertainment, not learning. Classes at the Academy teach computer hacking, business, crime scene, human trafficking, hand-to-hand combat, extortion, among other criminal pursuits.

Positive messages

Some positive messages about friendship, believing in oneself, love, the importance of family, and standing up to bullies.

Positive role models

Flick has a quick temper, drinks like a fiend, and swears like a sailor, but there's a loneliness and vulnerability to him. He definitely has a vendetta against his powerful father, who abused him his whole life. He also suspects him of killing his younger brother. Flick stands up to his vicious, brutal, and conniving classmates, especially Ivan, a murderer and psychopath, and the other villains in the story. He protects the loners and kids who are bullied and defends his female classmates. Joi, his love interest, is kind, sweet, takes care of the homeless kids on the street, and helps Flick out.


This is an extremely violent book. The violence is realistic and often shocking. Flick, an amateur boxer, often lets his anger get the better of him with different characters in the book. Flick often expresses feelings of wanting to hurt and kill people, but doesn't follow through. Flick was abused by his father and seeks revenge for the murder of his brother. Hand-to-hand combat is taught at Mandel Academy. There's cat fighting among the girls, students are called derogatory names and bullied, a secondary character tries to rape a female classmate, another secondary character commits suicide. Two characters tase and kill a fellow student. A severed head is shown.


Flirting, kissing, caressing, and indications of sexual intercourse having occurred (but not shown).


"S--t," "bulls--t," "faggot," "ass," "a--hole," "dammit," "crap," "smarta--," "piss," "goddamn," and "f--k."


J. Crew, Maserati GranTurismo

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Flick and other teen characters and adults drink. Drugs such as meth, heroine, and opium, are mentioned, and students participate in clinical trials for pharmaceuticals. No smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that How to Lead a Life of Crime is a very violent and dark book in which the teens are all criminals -- thieves, drug addicts and dealers, computer hackers, prostitutes, murderers -- or runaways. Like Lord of the Flies, it shows kids acting aggressive and violent toward others to gain control of them. The teen and adult characters all want to be the leaders and don't care about hurting other people if it benefits them. The main character, a thief, attends Mandel Academy, which represents itself as an elite school for children of the wealthy and powerful, but actually teaches kids how to be worse criminals. Teen characters are viciously beaten up, murdered, or commit suicide, and there's an attempted rape scene, a severed head shown, and strong language (including "s--t," "bulls--t," "faggot," "ass," "dumba--," "dammit," "crap," "goddamn," and "f--k"). There's mild kissing, flirting, and allusions to sex having happened (but it's not shown).

Parents say

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What's the story?

Flick, a spoiled rich kid, is a petty thief living on the streets of Manhattan. He's a wannabe thug who drinks, swears, steals, and loves a girl named Joi. Flick thinks he can escape his demons and the pain of the death of his younger brother by living a life of crime. He believes his father's responsible for his brother's death and wants revenge. He gets his chance for it after he enters the prestigious Mandel Academy. From the outside, the school looks like an institution dedicated to training America's wealthy elite to become powerful dealmakers. But the school is not what it appears. It's actually a place for criminals just like Flick. He falls in easily with the other kids who are learning to how to lead a life of crime, but Flick discovers there's something more sinister happening at Mandel Academy. He soon puts in a plan a motion to take everyone down and uncover the truth.

Is it any good?


Known for her adventurous tween series Kiki Strike and her romantic teen series The Eternal Ones, Kirsten Miller ventures into darker territory with HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME. As with her other novels, readers will will jump right into the action, and they'll root for Flick to solve the mystery behind Mandel Academy (think Hogwarts for hardened criminals) and get the bad guys responsible for causing terror within its hallowed halls. The novel also weaves the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the Lost Boys into the narrative by having Flick envision his dead brother as Peter Pan, and sees Joi as a stand-in for Wendy.

The first part of the book is realistic and gritty, with a thrilling mystery for Flick to solve. But toward the middle, it strays into science-fiction territory that might leave some readers scratching their heads. All in all, the novel leads readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and contains many surprises.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the violence in the book. Is it over-the-top or effective for the story? How about the criminal elements showcased in the novel?

  • Why do you think novels about unusual schools are so popular? What other ones have you read?

  • Even though Flick faces terrible experiences and horror at Mandel Academy, he never gives up on his love for Joi. What did you think of their relationship and why his love for her kept him alive?

Book details

Author:Kirsten Miller
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:February 21, 2013
Number of pages:464
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Teen, 13 years old Written byBryerlySunset July 2, 2013

Perfect book for action loving teens

This was a very good book with a slow plotline at first but it picks up rapidly and it keeps you turning the pages until the very end. Parents should definitely read parts of the book in advance, but overall it's an appropriate book for most teens. It made the perfect book for me with minimal romance, lots of action, and a gripping plot.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 15 years old Written byam1560042777 December 9, 2014

The Details and Charactor Development are through the roof!

One of my favorite parts of the book and to me, a very large life lesson is the part when Flick talks about Peter-pan (you'll have to read to find out) and the fact that the Academy resembles a game of chess. All of the students are pawns. Then comes the higher figures up and up until the king, some would say its Flick's father, others Mandel. Overall its Flick"s journey as he becomes a better person that hits right to home, because he goes through exaggerated forms of what every teenager does. Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone. Great read and inspirational message.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 16 years old Written bylive_awesome12 September 21, 2016


I think it's great but its more for older kids. There's bad words, sex, and a rape scene. There is also dying and violence. This book really receives 5 stars. Its written well and only understandable if your older. I repeat don't let little kids read this book.(0-14)
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing


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