Book Review | How To Lead a Life of Crime | Kirsten Miller

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review | How To Lead a Life of Crime | Kirsten MillerHow To Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
Published by Razorbill on February 21, 2013
Genres: Contemporary YA, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 434
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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A meth dealer. A prostitute. A serial killer.

Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?

HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller was not what I expected it to be. I kind of went into it thinking that it would be one of those fun, humorous, cheeky books about teenage criminals and their felonious shenanigans, a la Ally Carter’s Heist Society books. Ummm…NO. HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME is dark, psychologically intense, and effed up in general. Not my usual cup of tea, but I have to say that Kirsten Miller writes her story well and creates characters who perhaps are difficult to relate to or like, but are gripping and deserving of a little empathy nonetheless.

The main character of HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME is Flick. It’s clear from the beginning pages that his life up to this point–where he’s a thief of some skill living on the streets of Manhattan after something huge and horrible happened with his family–has been basically shit. He hates–HATES–his father, some banking or Wall Street big shot who was abusive and terrible to Flick, but less so to his younger brother, whose name is escaping me totally right now but who liked to dress up as Peter Pan and is now, sadly, dead. Anywho, Flick is now basically squatting with other lost children in this abandoned house with a girl named Joi (pronounced “Joey”), who is like the leader of this band of misfits. They have a thing. Until one day, Flick gets picked up by this guy Lucian, who turns out to be the current head of the Mandel Academy, Flick’s dad’s alma mater. Flick winds up enrolling when Lucian tells him he’s got some dirt on how his brother actually died. From there, we spend the rest of the book in EFF WITH THEIR HEADS! central.

There are lots of secondary characters in HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME. All crazy, and all students at Mandel Academy, whose student body is made up of kids ranging from petty criminals to serious, hardcore baddies (I’m talking serial killers here) who have been rescued from homes, jail, the streets, etc. But the real focal point is Flick (we don’t find out his real name until the end), and guys, he’s a meaty character to discuss. Let me just get one thing straight right away: Flick is not really a likable character. Not to me, anyway. And I mean likable in the strictest sense. Just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel really bad for him. But he behaves in ways that are pretty awful, and even though he’s in an environment that doesn’t really leave him much choice, I got a very clear vibe that he kind of enjoyed being awful. And that gets a big “NO THANK YOU” from me.

This doesn’t mean that I hated Flick, though. He’s actually a really gripping character. Kirsten Miller makes sure that readers will be some level of conflicted about him, I think. On the one hand, he’s got no problems playing power games at Mandel that result in kids getting beaten, humiliated, or killed. On the other hand, there are some students who he looks out for there, and he has a few emotional attachments that humanize him and give him some motive to not lose himself to horrible life at Mandel completely.

There’s a relationship in HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME between Flick and Joi, but it’s not the focus at all, and it’s not swoony either. The environment these two come from and find themselves in doesn’t really allow for it. But they have feelings for one another, and they are strong. Mostly, they work together to turn things around at Mandel, and that makes them seem very much like adults, not love-struck teenagers. In fact, there are very few kids in HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME who act like children or had any appreciable childhood, really. There are no innocents in this book, and that in itself is pretty bleak.

I know that these thoughts make HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME seem like a huge, dark, twisty, downer. I wish I could tell you that this isn’t the case. There are very few bright spots for Flick and Co. I mean, there are A FEW, I guess, but they’re so overshadowed by the dark stuff that they don’t really signify very much. And it’s a big testament to Kirsten Miller and her writing that I didn’t get overwhelmed by the messed up crazy and put the book down. I was engrossed and invested, even as I was cringing and shaking my head, talking out loud about how effed up the whole thing was. If you’re in the mood for something a little darker and psychologically thrilling, then HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller is a super place to start.


  1. I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while. I think the cover is great, and every review I’ve read echoes what you said: that it’s a twisted story, and the characters are pretty screwed up, but also that the writing is very good and White does a great job of getting you invested.
    Anna (Big Sky, Mountains of Books) recently posted…#LumatereRA: Finnikin of the Rock, Week ThreeMy Profile

  2. This sounds pretty intense, and I don’t know if it would be right for me (at the moment anyway). I think Flick sounds pretty intriguing though, and I’d be curious to see what it’s like for him and what his story’s all about.
    Alexa Y. recently posted…The Near Witch – Victoria Schwab (Review)My Profile

  3. Hmm, okay, THOUGHTS. I have never heard of this one. BUT. It does sound different and dark and interesting. I like that it’s thrilling and gritty. And unlikeable characters and I get on sometimes (as in the case of Katniss!) and then sometimes we don’t. It all depends on their motivations, I think.

    I’ll consider this one at some point. I like psychological stuff, I really do, like LUCID and THE MURMURINGS. I’m glad you read it and are getting the word out about it, Amy!
    Molli recently posted…Review: Renegade by Amy Carol ReevesMy Profile


  1. […] Looking for an effed up story about teenage criminals at an effed up school? Kirsten Miller’s HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME should be on your TBR. LOTS of great books coming out this March! Here are the ones I’m most […]

  2. […] Alice Marvels – “a shocking and entertaining thrill ride.” Fiction Freak – “The way Miller pulled this idea off was stunning” Tripping Over Books – “dark, psychologically intense, and effed up in general.” […]

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