Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

How to Lead a Life of Crime

How to Lead a Life of Crime

Kirsten Miller
For ages 14 and up
Penguin, 2013   ISBN: 978-1595145185

Several months ago Flick ran away from the military school that his father had forced him to attend. He hadn’t been unhappy at the school, in fact it had suited him well enough, but after the death of his younger brother, Flick had to leave. He had to find out what had happened to Jude, and what he found out what that their abusive father had beaten Jude and the seventeen year old had died.

   Now Flick is living on the streets of Manhattan, picking pockets and trying to convince himself that he is not a weak person. Flick’s father believes that are two kinds of people in the world, “the weak and the strong,” and Flick is determined to come out on top, to be one of the strong. When he is hired to steal some documents from a house, he takes the job. Then the client reveals that he is the headmaster of the Mandel Academy, the school many of America’s most successful people have attended. Lucian Mandel would like Flick to become a student at the school and he promises that if Flick graduates, he, Lucian Mandel, will give Flick what he needs to prove that Flick’s father killed Jude.

   Driven by a need to avenge Jude’s death, Flick joins the school and he very quickly finds out that it is nothing like any school on the planet. The adults at the Mandel Academy are training young people to become criminals; they are grooming them to become the kinds of men and women who get to the top of the ladder by walking over the bodies of anyone who gets in the way. The students at the school are taught that people are either predator or prey, and if they don’t manage to become a predator in the school they will die. Literally.

   Wanting more than anything to get his hands on proof that his father is murderer, Flick agrees to do whatever it takes to rise to the top at the Academy. Even when he finds out that the students who are doing poorly are being killed, Flick keeps on going. Even when Jude, in his Peter Pan persona, visits Flick in his dreams and tells him that Flick is losing sight of who he is, Flick does not waver in his purpose. Then the only living person he cares about arrives at the Academy and Flick is suddenly reminded that there is more to life than winning, that he has more than two choices.

   This extraordinary novel is powerful, often disturbing, and painfully honest. Readers will see how one teenager comes dangerously close to losing his humanity, and how he has to break away from the philosophies of his father and his school to become a whole person.