Thieving Weasels

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Thieving Weasels Book Poster Image
Dark, funny tale of teen trying to flee his criminal family.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Respect for formal education as a path to a better life is a core theme here, but readers will get far more lessons in the wiles of con artists -- and how to spot them.

Positive Messages

As the title suggests, Thieving Weasels takes place in an ethically murky universe, seen through the eyes of a narrator brought up to divide the world into family and marks. Thus many of its lessons are more about street smarts ("Always know your mark. And if you don't know who your mark is ... it's probably you") than lofty values. But determination, resourcefulness, and the sheer relief of telling the truth (and finding other people who do the same) loom large.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cam/Skip has a lot of the antihero about him, but it's hard not to root for him as he tries to escape his lowlife family and live a decent life. Also, even though it's all built on lies, he's done a great job of turning his life around and becoming a model citizen with a bright future. His sweet, rich girlfriend Claire pulls a surprising scam or two of her own but stands by him and helps him out of trouble.

Violence

Much of the story concerns a plot to kill a retired gangster, who killed the family of the man who's paying for the hit -- although here as elsewhere, appearances can be deceiving. Adult and teen characters punch (and sometimes try to kill) each other, have physical fights, and compete in potentially deadly races. A drunk-driving accident proves fatal -- or does it?

Sex

Two teens in love kiss and plan to have sex, but when they eventually do, it's not described. A character at the wheel in a fatal car crash blames the fact that his girlfriend was performing a sex act on him at the time. Cam/Skip's uncertain paternity influences plot developments.

Language

There's plenty of swearing and crude language, from "Jesus!" and "damn!" to "s--t," "eat me," and "son of a bitch," but much of it serves to define characters and situations. Frequent references to pee.

Consumerism

Many mentions of specific products (makes of cars, an iPhone, and the like), eating establishments (Taco Bell), and musical artists, for scene setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's lots of drinking, smoking tobacco and marijuana, and doing other drugs by both teens and adults (one character is both using and selling meth, while another is stealing from pharmacies, selling the pills, and keeping another character hooked on pain pills). None of it is shown as glamorous, especially the epic hangovers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that as the title suggests, most of the characters in the darkly comic Thieving Weasels are not nice people. The book requires a reader mature (and maybe a bit cynical) enough to navigate a world seen by a 17-year-old whose childhood in a family of petty crooks was one fraud, scam, and rip-off after the next and who now finds himself trapped in a scheme to kill an ex-mobster. The story and Cam's narrative voice are often hysterically funny as he tries to escape his relatives and live a normal, decent life, which requires beating his lowlife family at their own game. There's strong language and lots of drinking, smoking tobacco and marijuana, and doing other drugs by both teens and adults (one character is both using and selling meth, while another is stealing from pharmacies, selling the pills, and keeping another character hooked on pain pills), all presented in a negative light.

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What's the story?

As THIEVING WEASELS begins, scholarship student Cam Smith has made the most of his years at posh Wheaton Academy, studying hard, working in the cafeteria, finding the perfect girlfriend -- and now, being accepted at Princeton. Trouble is, Cam Smith doesn't actually exist; he's one of many fake identities used by Skip O'Rourke, child and pawn of the O'Rourke clan of grifters, con artists, and scammers. At 13, Skip decided he wanted a non-criminal life as a regular person, ran away from his family, and assumed the identity of "Cam." Almost four years later, he gets a rude surprise when his scuzzy uncle turns up, demanding he return to the fold and help out with "one last job." Otherwise, Cam's perfect life will be history.

Is it any good?

Dark, profane, and often hysterically funny, Billy Taylor's YA debut finds a Princeton-bound prep-schooler trying to escape his birth family of liars, crooks, scoundrels, and possibly murderers. Narrator Cam's efforts to stay one step ahead of his thieving relatives involve outsmarting them -- but also a return to the criminal ways of his youth. 

The pace is quick -- the better to entangle the reader in the convoluted plots the characters devise against one another -- with more than a few nail-biting moments before the final confrontation.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Thieving Weasels as an example of a story of a seriously toxic family. What other examples do you know? Are they always funny?

  • Sometimes your family supports you. Sometimes it can seem as if they're holding you back. Do you or your friends feel this way? How do you strike the right balance?

  • Do you think it's possible for people to overcome a bad start and change their ways, or are they doomed to stay on the same path forever?

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