How To Lead a Life of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

Kirsten Miller's How To Lead a Life of Crime is the junior-division version of Catherine Jinks's novel Evil Genius. Both stories are about unhappy boys with a gift for criminal behavior who are approached by shady older dudes offering them a chance to attend schools for budding supervillains, but Jinks's take on the material is far weirder, and peopled by a cast of genuinely troubled characters. Miller's version is less ambitious and morally ambiguous—but much easier to digest.

How To Lead a Life of Crime centers around 17-year-old Flick, a runaway from a wealthy background. Flick supports himself through petty theft, along with the odd handout from his almost-girlfriend Joi, a mysterious girl who runs an underground shelter for homeless children. When Flick picks up a breaking-and-entering job from a man named Lucian Mandel, it turns out to be an entrance exam for the Mandel Academy, an exclusive school devoted to teaching criminal behavior. Flick has no intention of accepting, but Lucian makes him an offer he can't refuse: if Flick joins the Academy, Lucian will supply him with evidence proving that Flick's abusive father murdered his younger brother.

For all the darkness of its subject matter (and trust me, things get pretty dark), Miller's novel is still a YA story. Flick and Joi are fundamentally good people, they remain glamorous, charismatic figures throughout their adventures, and their eventual happy ending is never in doubt. The same cannot be said of Jinks's Evil Genius, which only qualifies as a YA novel because of its teenage main character and far-fetched central premise. Neither novel is necessarily better, but they definitely appeal to different tastes, so we suggest picking up How To Lead a Life of Crime if you're in the mood for a creepy and violent action/adventure story, and Evil Genius if you're looking for straight-up horror.

Posted by: Julianka


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