Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

So, I’ve been wanting to add a collection of book reviews to this blog—so I could add it to my little literary “database” of stories to keep on tap when inspiration wanes—but I wanted to wait until I found the perfect, much-inspiring book to start with. And, ay carumba, I found the perfect book this week! It’s called The Good Thief, and it’s written by Hannah Tinti.

So, a lot of people disagree with me on this one, but I’m all about the plot—if you don’t have me on the hook, wondering the whole time what’s going to happen next, then I don’t care. I’m the annoying type of nerdy writer-reader who actually pauses at the end of a chapter to ponder the question, What the heck am I reading to find out next? If I don’t know the answer to that, I just speed-read until I get to a juicy bit with a dramatic question or two. 

The Good Thief, however, kept me permanently tuned in, because the end of almost every chapter lands the protagonist, a one-handed orphan boy named Ren (his hand was cut off as a baby, but he doesn’t know how), into the frying pan—or sometimes, even worse, from the frying pan into the fire. Even better, the chapters often end with Ren almost reaching his goal, only to fall into worse trouble. In the first chapters, he’s picked up from the orphanage by a man claiming to be kin—which has been his ultimate dream—only to find out that the man, Benjamin, is a thief with the worst intentions. Ren generally succeeds in the thievery trade, only to be robbed again and again of his favorite possessions and friends. Sorry not to give more specific outcomes here, but the great thing about the book is that there are so many plot ups-and-downs that just summarizing the plot would probably spoil it for most—which in itself testifies to Tinti’s plot mastery.

The other great thing about this book is its mood and tone, which have a lot to do with how enjoyable it is. In a cover blurb, Junot Díaz likens Tinti to a “twenty-first-century Robert Louis Stevenson,” which seems like a good comparison. This very much has a Treasure Island feel—a troubled but basically good narrator in a world of shady characters whose ill luck is often quite endearing. The language is simple, with an ominous streak that just as easily turns whimsical and back to ominous again. 

Here’s a paragraph that’s a good example of both Tinti’s terse-but-tense language and the up-and-down fortunes of the novel. Here, Ren has just found a wishing stone—he’s pleased, but the stone also reminds him of Sebastian, another orphan whom the orphanage volunteered into the army at age 16. In this memory, Sebastian goes AWOL and returns to the gates of the orphanage, only to be denied refuge. He tells Ren his story through the gates before he is discovered and dragged away by army officers:

Ren had seen only one [wishing stone] before—it had belonged to Sebastian. He’d shown it to Ren once, but he wouldn’t let anyone hold it. He was afraid of losing his wish. He was saving it, he said, for a time when he was in trouble, and he’d taken it with him when he left for the army. Later. . . Sebastian told Ren through the swinging door in the gate that someone had stolen the wishing stone while he slept. “I shouldn’t have held on to it,” he wept. “I should have used it as soon as it came into my hands.” (New York, NY: Dial Press Trade Paperbacks; 2009. p16, ¶3)

Last but not least, here’s my rating for the book:  ! ! ! ! ! (5/5 exclamation points)

And for the record, here’s the Captivated Audience rating system:
! = I didn't finish it (or I sped-read it)
! ! = I finished reading it
! ! ! = I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't totally satisfy me
! ! ! ! = I enjoyed reading it, and it was totally satisfying
! ! ! ! ! = I'll read this book more than once

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