Review: How To Lead A Life of Crime

Author: Kirsten Miller
Publication Date: February 21, 2013
Publisher: Razorbill
Reading Level: Young Adult (16+)/Mature Young Adults
Pages: 434 (ARC)
Source: Trade
A meth dealer. A prostitute. A serial killer.

Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

Before I write this review, I want to point something out. This book is marketed as a book for readers aged fourteen years and older. However, Kirsten Miller sets all guidelines for giveaways and such for this novel for sixteen years or older because of the content. After reading the book, I have to say that I agree. While I absolutely loved this book, it's very violent, has horrible language, and is uncomfortably twisted at times. It's not something younger kids should read and is definitely geared towards mature young adults. With that being said, now it is time for the review!

I was looking forward to this book because of the unique synopsis above. It stands out, it's not something you come across often, and it promises us a dark, twisted contemporary that covers topics never approached before. Boy, did this one not disappoint.

The story starts off with Flick on the streets before he is taken into the Mandel Academy and we are granted the privilege of watching his life progress outside and then inside this crime academy. Flick ran away from the military school that his abusive father sent him to. He began pickpocketing on the streets to support himself. His story is actually excruciatingly sad, but the beginning of the story introduces us to a side of Flick that begs for revenge and makes him seem fearless, thus it's easy to gravitate towards his character and this easily makes you want to stay connected to him throughout the novel. He grew up rich because his Dad was a conniving banker that stole money using techniques he learned when he spent time at the Mandel Academy that teaches kids how to be the perfect criminals with grossly successful jobs. The fact that he chose to live on the streets instead of staying in his rich, cushy life gave his character a lot of depth. He wasn't willing to live with an abusive parent, taking hits for his Mother who often ran away to protect the children. The only person he never had to take a hit for was his younger brother, Jude. Jude was his father's son while Flick was his mother's son. His father idolized Jude and everything he stood for. If it's possible for a sociopath to love someone, he truly loved Jude. But Jude's now dead and he haunts Flick's dreams by causing him to hallucinate when Jude appears to him as his beloved Peter Pan.

Jude's character was perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this novel. As a child, he loved Peter Pan and believed wholeheartedly that Never Land was a real place. This is why Jude appears to Flick as a ten year old Peter Pan than the sixteen year old boy he was when he died. He often guides Flick and is the voice of reason in a lot of situations. His mere existence in Flick's mind was both creative and slightly disturbing in a psychological thriller type of way. Flick himself often explains how he thinks he's insane because he's a poor thief who talks to Peter Pan in his sleep. However, Jude allowed for a huge aspect of the plot that is unparalleled in young adult literature as well as allowing the beloved Peter Pan tale to twist into the complicated story surrounding the Mandel Academy somehow.

Aside from Jude and Flick, the characterization was superb because it was both fascinating and disturbing. The entire point of this novel is to test hypotheses surrounding the triggering of sociopaths and psychopaths. As an individual taking a psychology class, I know that psychopaths and sociopaths make up almost the entire majority of serial killers. Aside from this, they're often insanely successful businessmen, politicians, bankers, and other important figures because they possess drive and many leadership qualities, despite their closed off emotions and insane ways of thinking. This book exploits that and exemplifies how psychopaths can blend into society by making themselves seem normal when they're actually cold and calculating. I won't name any names, but I want you to be able to be as shocked as I was with some big reveals in this one. So instead, I'll say this. While this is fascinating, you can easily tell that this book is going to be disturbing. Sociopathic tendencies do often lead to smartly planned murders and skewed morals. They can wholeheartedly believe that what they are doing is right while the moral compasses in most of the human race are going off screaming "Warning! Warning! In the presence of a crazy man! Back up and save yourself!" This leads to some really disturbing aspects of the novel that almost make you want to put it down, but the mystery and intrigue are so delicious and rich that you can't. Plus, as I noted earlier, Flick's desire to avenge all the wrongs done to his family is such a great goal that you easily become attached to him and you want to watch his story play out until the end. However, this book isn't for those who are easily disturbed or offended. I cannot stress this enough, despite how much I recommend it.

The romance in this one was great as well, and I say that because you can tell that Flick and Joi (pronounced Joey) really do love each other despite their odd relationship. They do have sex and there are sexual references in the novel, but it's never graphic and it's not as if Miller says "and now they are going to have sex." More often than not, they go to sleep together and sometimes that's really all they do, sleep, and then later in the novel it's referenced that they slept together intimately and such. So, if you're not okay with such references, back up now. While this isn't a large part of the book, it's part of their relationship. At times they see very little of each other and it makes you almost want to eagerly anticipate the moment that they reunite because Flick and Joi are so perfect for each other. Joi is the motherly type as well as being a brilliant schemer. She takes kids off the streets and keeps them fed and clothed in her basement despite the fact that she is a homeless seventeen year old as well. She's respectable and keeps Flick grounded when he temporarily strays away from his respectable life. They make an odd pair, but a perfect pair nonetheless and the slow-moving romance that serves as a really important back-plot to the story is perfect. It does not dominate the story or take anything over, but Joi is always in the back of Flick's mind.

My one pet peeve in this novel is the language. I don't care about bad language and cussing in novels. It lends itself to portraying realistic teens because, let's face it, teens cuss a lot. However, I hate it when fake cuss words are thrown in or cuss words are not fully typed out. It's almost my biggest pet peeve because I don't think you should write a novel with cusses in it unless you are going to include the cusses. I couldn't help but roll my eyes every time "f---ing" or "f---" appeared in the text, yet many other cusses were fine. Just don't include the words if you aren't going to write them out to get the full emotion forced behind cuss words to shine through. That covers my last warning as well. If you can't deal with cuss words, turn back now. They're a constant companion in this novel.

So, I clearly loved this one, but I know it's not for everyone. The darkness and the creepiness really appealed to me. While I admit that this novel has the potential to be disturbing in many different ways, I found that it fit into the plot because of the whole psychopathic tendencies thing. Some other people may not be able to get by this though, so I only recommend this one to older young adults who like darker novels, don't mind sexual references, cussing, murder, and twisted thinkers that make amazingly vile villains. If you fit into that category, I urge you to get your hands on this one as soon as possible because it truly did live up to my expectations. A quick read, I can't wait to see what else Miller has in store for us. She is an amazing author that makes you think and takes you places that other writers are scared to venture and this is a book that'll be on my mind for a while.

4.5 stars



  1. Ooooo, this one sounds so twisted! I love twisted novels!

  2. This book sounds FANTASTIC! I can't wait to get my hands on it! Fabulous review Lili!!!

  3. I've had this in my reader for like a month - it does sound good! I need to get on this one! :) Great review!

  4. This sounds really interesting! I initially kind of blew it off because I'm not a fan of the cover at all. But now I might check it out if I see it at the library.

    I find the cussing thing to be so weird. Why not juts write the actual word? Or if you're not comfortable with the word, use a different one? That would really bother me too, not to mention it totally disrupts the flow of the narrative.

  5. This book sounds like it was it all! Can't wait for this one!

  6. It's always so great to hear when characters and relationships are well done, no matter what novel. That's my biggest criteria in any book, and it sounds like Flick and Jude would be great people to read about and experience. I'm really happy that you liked this book, Lili!

  7. This book was not originally something I wanted to read and now I can't wait to get my hands on it! It sounds like just my type of novel. Thanks for the great and very thorough review!

  8. Great review. This is very intriguing honestly and now I know that I shouldn't share this with my younger nieces and nephew.

  9. I honestly wasn't too sure about this one when I first heard about it. It isn't the type of book that I normally read. But after so many reviews, including yours, have sang its praises, I think that I may have to give it a shot!