A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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).
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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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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