TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
I've never read Ally Carter's "Gallagher Girls" spy series, but I did meet Ally at Book Expo last year and found her absolutely charming and adorable. Heh … I wonder if that counts as the kind of "full disclosure" we bloggers are supposed to be giving from here on out. :p
I was so pleasantly surprised by Ally's latest novel "Heist Society," which I figured would be a teen caper with exotic locales, a snarky female protagonist, and maybe a tinge of a love story. Oh, don't get me wrong. It was all of these things. What threw me for a loop — in the best way possible! — was the book's examination of widescale Nazi art theft during the Holocaust and its continued repercussions more than a half century later.
In case I'm getting ahead of myself, let me lay out the plot framework. Teenager Kat Bishop comes from a long line of thieves, including fearsome Uncle Eddie, gorgeous teen cousin Gabrielle, and her own father. Kat is a skilled thief and con man — er, woman? — but she's forsaken the criminal life to enroll at the elite Colgan School. When Kat is wrongfully blamed for a prank and subsequently expelled, she ends up staying with her friend / boyfriend / secret love interest (take your pick!), the wealthy, mysterious Hale. Around the same time, a powerful, truly menacing international crime boss named Arturo Toccone threatens Kat's father. Toccone believes Kat's dad is the only thief in the world capable of having stolen his priceless, secret art collection from its hidden fortress location. If the paintings are not returned, Toccone will have Kat's dad killed.
Gah! Interestingly, Kat's dad is actually innocent of this particular crime, but Toccone will not be persuaded otherwise. Since her dad is under constant Interpol surveillance for an unrelated theft, Kat takes matters into her own hands. Ignoring a warning from Uncle Eddie, she and Hale assemble a sort of "Ocean's 11" crew of teen thieves, including twin brothers, a tech geek, cousin Gabrielle, and a young pickpocket Kat meets in a Paris street. Together, the kids have to (a) figure out what was stolen from Toccone; (b) suss out the items' new hiding place; and (c) steal them back, preferably without getting caught.
For folks who remember either version of "The Thomas Crown Affair," there are definite parallels here. And, obviously, the "Ocean's 11" comparison is unmistakable. Still, this book felt fresh to me. Maybe it's the teen spin, the amiable characters, or the super clever final heist that give the book an appealing newness. Just as likely, it's the Nazi looting subplot, which gives a flighty, frothy caper some unexpected depth and emotion. Oh … and the romantic tension between Kat and the dreamy Hale certainly doesn't hurt either!
"Heist Society" is remarkably clean in terms of language, sex, and drug / alcohol references. Unless you're put off by the moral implications of a band of teen thieves, I'd say the audience for this one is easily middle school and up. Try it for the sharp dialogue, European jetsetting, gentle humor, and smart plotting. But be sure to also read Ally's endnote and think a bit about the lasting injustice of the Nazis' looting of priceless artwork.