Ren is one of the many orphaned wards at St. Anthony’s, hoping to be adopted by a family before he grows too old and must be shipped off to the military. Unfortunately Ren is at a distinct disadvantage: he is missing a hand from an incident he can no longer remember.
But one day a man enters the monastery claiming to be Ren’s older brother, spinning a fantastic tale about how Ren came to St. Anthony’s and about how he lost his hand. He leaves with this man, but learns very quickly this mysterious stranger is not what he claims to be. The man styles himself Benjamin Nab: a soldier, a sailor, a farmer, a fisherman, a grave digger—but it becomes clear that all these personas are false even as his connection to Ren is real.
I was initially led to believe this book was YA, but it is not. I wonder why it wasn’t marketed to the YA sector as a “crossover” novel because I definitely think it has potential. In voice and execution it reminded me a bit of Marcus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, which was originally published as adult fiction in Australia before being marketed to the YA audience in North America.
Marketing and publicity questions aside, the book THE GOOD THIEF reminded me most of is the English YA novel CORAM BOY by Jamila Gavin, which won the prestigious Whitbread Award in 2000. I saw the stage adaptation when I was living in London and then promptly bought the novel, but Gavin’s work failed spectacularly when transferred Stateside. I have no idea why; I thought it was haunting and Gothic and creepy, but critics were unimpressed. I mean, it was blurbed by freaking Philip Pullman.
On the other hand, Tinti’s work seemed to be well-received here, even though the story was essentially the same. They even take place around the same period of time, although one is set in New England and the other in London. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the novel was haunting and mysterious and quite gripping, but I kept thinking I’d read this before.
Recommended, although I would like to put in a word for poor Jamila Gavin. She’s pretty awesome, I swear! If you read THE GOOD THIEF, I suggest you also pick up CORAM BOY.