The Good Thief – Book Review

goodthiefHe had no memory of a beginning – of a mother or father, sister or brother. His life was simply there, at Saint Anthony’s, and what he remembered began in the middle of things – the smell of boiled sheets and lye; the taste of watery oatmeal; the feel of dropping a brick onto a piece of stone, watching the red pieces split off, then using those broken shards to write on the wall of the monastery, and being slapped for this, and being forced to wash the dust away with a cold, wet rag. – from The Good Thief, page 4 –

Ren, missing a hand,  has lived for eleven years at an orphanage in New England – a place where children are whipped for infractions and schooled in Catholic doctrine. His friendships are few and his questions are many. Then one day a man named Benjamin Nab arrives at Saint Anthony’s claiming to be Ren’s brother. His wild stories convince the authorities at the orphanage to let Benjamin adopt Ren – and thus begins Ren’s second life filled with grave robbery, violence, and lies. Along the way, Ren makes friends with a paid assassin, a dwarf, a landlady who has a heart of gold, a nun, and a drunkard. He also begins to uncover the mystery surrounding his birth.

The Good Thief is a fast read and filled with unexpected events and excitement. Hannah Tinti’s story is a bit Dickensonian, but with more violence. Ren’s character is likable (he is the good thief, in case you were wondering)…he wants to do good, but is forced to lie and steal to survive. The writing in the novel is clean and vivid.

But, despite these strengths, I did not really enjoy this book. At times I felt the plot was too contrived, and the violence overdone and gratuitous. The number of evil characters in the novel turned me off a bit. I found myself wanting a better life for Ren and wondering if there were any loving adults in his world. Luckily, Mrs. Sand (the landlady) ends up being someone who provides the love Ren has never known. And although Tinti redeems some of her “bad” characters,  the novel overall was just too dark and depressing.

Many readers liked The Good Thief – in fact, it has won a host of awards including:

  • Winner, American Library Association Alex Award.
  • Winner, John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize 2008.
  • New York Times Notable Book of 2008.
  • Washington Post Best Books of 2008
  • San Francisco Chronicle, 50 Best Fiction & Poetry of 2008
  • Kirkus, Best Fiction of 2008 list
  • Nominee, 2008 Borders Original Voices AWard
  • One of the Best Books of 2008, Paste Magazine.
  • Indie Next list for September 2008.
  • Borders Original Voices pick for September 2008.
  • Featured Alternate of Book-of-the Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club, and The Literary Guild.
  • Foreign Rights to The Good Thief have been sold in thirteen countries.
  • When I read through that list, I wonder if I was just not in the mood for this book at the time I read it. Reader’s who like fast-paced fiction and are not overly disturbed by graphic violence, might give this one a try.


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    Life Wordsmith

    Library Thing Reviews

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      • Kathy on August 1, 2009 at 07:54

      This was half price at our indie bookstore last night and I picked it up but then put it back down when I found a couple other titles I’d rather have. Now, I’m glad I did.

    1. Another book upon which we disagree! I really enjoyed this one.

      And I don’t remember it being really violent, which is something that normally really disturbs me…it might be because of the whole almost “not real” feel of the book.

    2. What a shame, you didn’t like it. That first paragraph seemed so powerful. It touched all senses.

      • Teddy on August 1, 2009 at 10:09

      Great review Wendy! I set up Mr. Linky for the ARC challege a while ago, please use that to link your reviews. I am no longer doing it manually as it was too time consuming.

      • lenore on August 1, 2009 at 12:47

      I just read the first chapter for my first chapter challenge and I am looking forward to reading the rest. I don’t really mind some violence and if Amy wasn’t bothered by it, then I am sure I wouldn’t be.

      • Wendy on August 2, 2009 at 06:20

      Kathy: Don’t go totally on my thoughts for this one…many people have raved over it, and maybe you’d like it.

      Amy: Every once in a while we don’t see eye to eye, do we? I think sometimes when I read a book like this I am just not in the right frame of mind. I think I thought it was going to be different than it was…and for some reason the violence in the book bothered me (although normally violence in literature doesn’t impact me like this…maybe because it was with a child???). The fact that you don’t remember the violence makes me think I was just being over-sensitive.

      Vivienne: Don’t get me wrong…the writing was well done. It was the story itself I didn’t love.

      Teddy: Whoops! Sorry about that…I guess I missed when you did that …no problem, I’ll stop off later and add my link!

      Lenore: I hope you’ll like it…and I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

      • Memory on August 2, 2009 at 07:53

      You’re definitely not alone in being less than impressed with it. I didn’t really enjoy it either, but it sounds like you thought a bit better of it than I did. My review is here.

      • Jenny on August 2, 2009 at 08:02

      I didn’t like it that much either – on the other hand, I was reading it in the middle of a massive Dr. Who marathon, which I sort of wanted to get back to, so it’s possible I didn’t give it a fair shot.

      • Meghan on August 2, 2009 at 11:51

      I’m another one that really enjoyed this book. I didn’t really find it dark or violent, but like Amy, it’s probably because it felt more like a realistic fantasy or caricature. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you!

    3. Hmm…I’m not sure about this one. Thanks for the review!

      • Wendy on August 2, 2009 at 14:16

      Memory: Thanks for the link to your review…you definitely disliked it more than I did *laughs* I’ve added the link to your review at the bottom of my review.

      Jenny: I think you, me and Memory are definitely in the minority here – but our opinions are also valid, no matter what the reasons are!

      Meghan: It *did* have a fantastical feel to it, didn’t it? I could see it being made into a movie.

      Swapna: I don’t know if you’d like this one…we are so similar on our likes/dislikes…but you never know.

      • Gavin on August 2, 2009 at 15:16

      Great review. I don’t really click with this one, for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. Dark can be good, but this felt really gimmicky to me.

      • richard on August 5, 2009 at 07:25

      if you did not like it, why did you give it three stars (okay to read)? a star system seems too arbitrary. i rate things with only three options:

      1 – definitely read
      2 – read only if you like ______ (sports, politics, travel, etc.)
      3 – don’t read

      • Wendy on August 5, 2009 at 07:37

      Hi Richard…I rated it “okay” because the book had some positives (please read my entire review where I point those out)…and I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t love it. If you look at my reading journal page, my star system is explained in more detail than I could do in a sidebar. Three stars here means it was okay and some people might like it (actually MANY people love this book…). You are, of course, entitled to rate your books however you like…but this is the system I choose to use and I like it.

      • Wendy on August 5, 2009 at 15:30

      Gavin: I agree – there was just something missing. I have enjoyed a dark, depressing book from time to time (enjoy? Well, maybe appreciated is a better word!)…but this one didn’t do it for me. Glad to see I wasn’t alone 🙂

    4. I’ve wanted to read this book but haven’t had a chance to yet. Great review!

      • Wendy on August 10, 2009 at 07:00

      Thanks, Rebecca….I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

      • Swati on March 17, 2010 at 09:43

      I thought your review was quite insightful as I felt the same, especially about the contrived ending. True, the book is delightful in parts and is a joyride, a good way to take your mind off. But I too would give it the rating of a “good read.” I have taken the liberty of quoting you in my book review, so just thought I would drop in and let you know! 🙂

      • Wendy on March 17, 2010 at 09:57

      Swati: Thanks for stopping by and weighing in (I’ve added your excellent review to the links above!)

      • Swati on March 17, 2010 at 18:30

      Thanks a lot Wendy! 🙂

      • Wendy on March 24, 2010 at 13:40

      You’re very welcome, Swati!

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