Wow. BBAW has ended. And I spent the entire weekend watching kids' games, ie soccer and football! I wouldn't have it any other way though. But for now, it's time to get back to the business of book reviews!! Starting with The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (336 pgs, The Dial Press, 2008) which is a book I choose through the Amazon Vine Program. I really didn't know what to expect from it, but was pleasantly surprised by this debut novel.
This is the story of Ren. He is a 12-year-old boy living in the St. Anthony's Orphanage somewhere in the woods of New England in the 19th Century. Ren is at that age where it's unlikely he will be adopted by a family, even the ones that are looking for a little bit of cheap labor. You see Ren is different from the other boys because he only has one hand. And any boys that reach their 18th birthday at the orphanage are sent to join the army and an almost certain death. But every time someone comes to pick out a child, Ren doesn't stop hoping.
Then one day, the unimaginable happens. A man comes to the orphanage seeking his long, lost brother. When the boys line up, the man walks right up to Ren, looks at his hand, and announces that he has found him!! And this is how Ren meets Benjamin Nab. The wild tale that Benjamin tells the priest isn't even close to the truth, but Ren is excited to finally have someone that he can call family.
But Benjamin isn't exactly who he says he is. With his friend and accomplice Tom, the drunken ex-school teacher, Benjamin shows Ren how they make a living. If it's not a con-job, then it's "fishing" in the local cemeteries (taking jewelry and items from the deceased). But when an opportunity emerges for the men to go to a town called North Umbrage, Benjamin is extremely reluctant. He has been in this town before and is afraid of the repercussions he will face if recognized. But the money they can earn stealing bodies from the cemetery for the local "Mad" Doctor is more than anyone can deny. So off the small rag-tag group goes....and then things really get wild!!
Tinti has shown in this debut novel that she really can tell a story!! Our one-handed little hero is smart, loyal and extremely courageous. He is the perfect protagonist for such an adventure. And an adventure it is! From conning farmers out of their horses to midnight grave-robbing expeditions, Ren is forced to take a good hard look at the men he is with and at the person he wants to be. There is also an extremely unique cast of characters that include a mysterious drawf that lives on the roof, a gentle giant who's only talent is one of murder, an almost-deaf landlady this is kind and yet a little on the scary side herself, and the corrupt owner of a mousetrap factory and all his little minions.
But through all the escapades that Ren goes through, the real adventure comes from finding out who he really is. Throughout the story, bits and pieces of Ren's history are revealed to the reader. When the explosive climax is finally reached, all the loose ends of the story are tied up nicely. Tinti has created a great adventure with this book. Although it isn't marketed to the Young Adult set, I think it would be highly enjoyable to that age group...especially to boys. All in all, I was swept up in this child's life and adventures and I would definitely recommend this book! 4/5