Somewhere in the 1800s in New England, a monastery was established with a statue on the grounds of St. Anthony, the patron saint of the recovery of anything lost. Ren is one of the many orphans or unwanted babies who are passed through the small door affixed to the main entrance and then retrieved by one of the inhabitants of the monastery. When he is delivered through the door, he is just a baby, and he arrives with a physical handicap and a small shirt with REN embroidered into the collar.
The Good Thief (aka, The Bad Book) is meant to be a historical fiction novel for adults that tells the coming-of-age story of a 12 year-old orphan boy who learns to live with a pair of rough and tumble thieves in early 1800s America. As a piece of historical fiction, this book fails almost every test: Did the author do enough research? Ok, so maybe this is just supposed to be an adventure story that happens to take place in the past. Reviewers kept comparing him to Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, which either means they haven't read the novels that those characters come from and just want to sound smart, or they think all boys who have adventures away from their parents are somehow all alike. But, a charitable reader might think, perhaps the book has a good message to make up for it! The "message" of the story (such as it is) is that people society normally considers bad (like thieves and murderers and grave robbers) can have good, warm hearts and hardy friendships. The only time the main character, Ren, is ever kind is when dealing with the group's horse. In fact, whenever the action is getting too "manly" or "rough," the author will have Ren reflect fondly on the horse as a way of making him a sympathetic character. It's the classic "you can trust this character because they're nice to animals!" trope, and Ren's goodness doesn't go much beyond that. Oooh, and it makes a nice, catchy title for the book: The Good Thief! But perhaps, you might want to ask, the story has a good villain? I just wanted to warn you that if you do read this book against my warnings, be prepared for a Pointless Dwarf. Between the Irish mousetrap guy and the dwarf, I thought I might have accidentally stumbled into a piece of children's literature, despite the fact that I found the book in the normal fiction section of the bookstore. Here are all the things that amaze me about it: I'm amazed it is actually considered an adult book; I'm amazed it made it through the front door of an editor's office and into the real world, rather than being quietly dropped down a garbage chute; I'm amazed that people (including me) have paid money for this book; and I'm amazed that reputable newspapers have given it good reviews and that some organizations actually felt it deserved awards.
How can you not like a story about a smart, one-handed orphan kid and his adventures with a cast of mysterious lowlifes in the 1800s?
Ren, a clear analogue to the orphaned-boy-brought-up-by-hand type of character that dominates the novels of Dickens, Stevenson, and others, is all too eager to welcome his older brother. Though Tinti has created a compelling world for Ren, and smartly populated it with references to great adventure and intrigue novels of the past, the tale rings flat. However, for a more meaningful statement on the power of tales from the past to speak to our lives today, readers are best off turning to novels such as Lloyd Joness Mister Pip, a tale that transcends mere reference to Dickens and, by being itself transformative, further illuminates the transformative power of story.
The author has failed to create anything realistic in this story. If so this story takes place in the 1860s, but the only reference to the war is mentioning the soldiers. I kept wondering how Elizabeth Gilbert, Janet Maslin and Ron Charles could say the wonderful things they said on the cover of this book. I like dark and I am happy to enjoy well written stories where bodies are dug up from graves, where horrible things happen to people, where some of the characters are rotten, manipulating, selfish, cheating liars. This however was just horrid, it went from bad to worse with the author failing to make any logical progression in this absurd story. I made note of many things that just didn't make any sense in this story. It was almost as if the author wasn't able to create a plausible or logical explanation for events and so instead she made up things that were completely absurd. Benjamin tells Ren 'don't let me down' but the author has failed to show the reader any type of relationship between the two characters or any reason why Ren wouldn't want to let him down.
(I would say it was written to a junior high level) Never could figure out what the era of the book was, one chapter had people abducted by indians, the next mentioned accounting machines.
I wanted to understand better why the main character Ren was so drawn to Dolly, the giant murderer or to Mrs. Sands. What was the motivation behind the mousetrap girl known as Harelip's helping Benjamin and Ren?