Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Heist Society'

The Book: Heist Society (Heist Society, Book 1)

The Author:
Ally Carter

How I Found It: This post piqued my interest.

The Review: Katarina 'Kat' Bishop has walked away from the life she had as a child and straight into Colgan School, a prestigious boarding school. Kat is a skilled con artist and art thief, thanks to her father and makeshift family's teachings, but now she just wants to be normal. When she gets framed and expelled for an elaborate prank involving the headmaster's Porsche, her chances at a normal life abruptly slip away.

As she packs her bags and leaves Colgan, she's met by a fellow member of the con artist clan: Hale, a boy her age who she might have feelings for. Hale has a message for her: her father might have stolen a few priceless paintings from mobster Arturo Taccone, and Taccone is demanding that he give them back. Bobby Bishop swears he didn't take them, but that makes no difference to Taccone. He gives Kat two weeks to find and retrieve the stolen paintings, and it's up to Kat to assemble a team of teen con artists like her to steal the paintings back from one of the most secure museums in the world, a place that's never before been robbed.

This book is paced like a speeding freight train, let me start by saying that. Carter certainly has skill. I started reading the book shortly before a car trip that lasted maybe three hours, and the only time my eReader left my hand was when we stopped at a convenience store for food. I was immediately drawn into Kat's plans to assemble the team and to figure out just why the paintings were so valuable to Taccone. Maybe a team of teenage con artists breaking into the most secure museum in the world is unbelievable, but damn if it's not compelling to read about. Sure, it's a bit standard at times--the constant focus on Kat and how she walked away from "the life" has been done in almost every con artist story--but I didn't feel bored even by the cliched parts.

Oddly, I felt the book started to drag as the gang got closer to pulling off the con. I started to lose interest in the group's dynamic and in what they had to do. I got interested again once the heist hit (and the heist itself was brilliantly done), but I think the preparations section could have been trimmed down. That was the only part of the book that I felt was too slow; the other sections were right on.

One element of the book I questioned was the inclusion of a love triangle between Kat, Hale, and a new team member named Nick. Love triangles are a staple of young adult literature these days (Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Vampire Diaries, etc.) and I'd like to see a YA novel without one, to be honest! I know it's an essential ingredient of a romantic plot, but it's usually painfully obvious how the resolution will shake out, and that was what I felt here. I would have been more intrigued by Kat, say, having walked away from an established relationship and having to build back the trust of her former boyfriend, instead of a love triangle. I hold out hope for the brave YA author who would choose not to include a love triangle, although I doubt it would happen any time soon.

I liked that Carter included names of common cons, often in dialogue, without stopping to explain at length what each one was. Usually the names ("Smokey the Bear", "Mary Poppins", etc.) made it obvious what the method would be, but Carter still could have underestimated her readers and explained each and every reference. She doesn't, instead letting the references fly fast and free in snappy, fun dialogue. I ended up looking up some of the cons myself when I was done to see if they were real (and yep, "dog in a bar," one of the many mentioned, is apparently a common street con). It's rare that a YA book has me looking something up, given that I'm past the age range and hopefully know a bit more than the average YA reader, so I considered this one a success when it came to getting me thinking!

I felt some things should have been tightened up or expanded upon, but since this is the first novel in a series, I gave most things a pass, since future books can improve on a first novel's faults (and, looking at reviews for the second book, I see that Carter made the effort to). There were a few too many times where Carter ended a scene on a cliffhanger involving a person walking into a room and saying either Kat's name or the "last thing a person expected them to say"--things of that nature. I wished for a bit more variety in the scene breaks and chapter closings because of that. And I never really got all that emotionally invested in the characters themselves--I found their methods fascinating, but didn't know a lot about them as people. Even Taccone was a bit of a stock villain. Apparently, the sequel improves upon this, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Kat and her merry band of thieves.

I'd definitely recommend this one to teen and adult fans of heist movies like Ocean's Eleven or TV shows like USA Network's White Collar (indeed, my love for the latter is what made me pay attention when I heard about a YA novel involving an art heist). These teen thieves will have you on the edge of your seat!

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