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The Good Thief

by Hannah Tinti

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1,5161318,350 (3.69)139
Growing up in a New England orphanage unaware of his family and of how he had lost his left hand as an infant, twelve-year-old Ren is terrified of the future, until a young man shows up claiming to be his long-lost brother, with whom he embarks on an adventure-filled odyssey of scam artists, petty criminals, and resurrection men.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
Fun, Fun, Fun. This book was so much fun to read. Tinti, while she may not be another Dickens, is a great storyteller. She weaves a wildly imaginative story with a host of colorful characters and throws in lots of twists that make it almost impossible to put down. ( )
  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
Twelve-year-old Ren is an orphan with a missing hand. How he lost that hand is a mystery, as he was abandoned at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys when he was an infant, without any note or identifying marks, save for embroidered REN inside the gown he was wearing. Occasionally a man will come to choose a boy, but Ren is never chosen. Until one day when a man appears, claiming to be Ren’s brother. Benjamin’s plausible story of how Ren lost his hand convinces Father John and Ren leaves the orphanage. But Benjamin may not be who he claims to be, and Ren is quickly absorbed into a gang of scam artists, grave robbers and petty thieves.

I had heard good reports of this novel and I was intrigued by the premise. Tinti captured my attention at the beginning and certainly kept me reading, but I found it very dark and distasteful. The scenarios, schemes, and twists in the plot just seemed like a list of “what will be next to befall this kid.” I never quite understood any of the characters – what motivated them and what held them together in their relationships to one another. The ending was quite a stretch, in my humble opinion, as if Tinti needed to wrap it up and give the reader some hope for the future.

Tinti does give the reader a real sense of the time and place. Though the year is never mentioned, this is a horse-and-wagon economy with some mines and some factories. The Army sometimes recruits older boys from St Anthony’s so perhaps there is a war being fought. There’s never any mention of an automobile, so I’m thinking Industrial Era, say circa 1812-1815. I loved the descriptions of the farmer’s fields, barns, animals … all new vistas to Ren’s eyes. I also really enjoyed Mrs Sands and descriptions of life in her boarding house.

But the things I liked about the book can’t quite make up for my general dislike. ( )
  BookConcierge | Sep 15, 2019 |
Here we have one of "those" books--an intriguing premise that could have delivered more. Ren, a one-handed orphan boy, learns the art of the con from a man who may or may not hold the answers to his past--namely, what happened to his parents, and what happened to his hand? Since the con man is, well, a con man, Ren can never tell if he's being fed lies or the truth.

Based on that synopsis alone, the book should have been great. Yes, the plot inches over the top by the end, but this tale is told in the tradition of the American "yarn for boys." Don't Tom and Huck end up rich? Doesn't Jim Hawkins? So why shouldn't our good thief Ren? But the comparison stops there. The accolades on the back cover ("goes on my shelf next to [b:Treasure Island|295|Treasure Island|Robert Louis Stevenson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312023209s/295.jpg|3077988]!") doubtlessly helped this book disappoint me.

The historical setting is passably detailed yet less than immersing. Tension picks up toward the end, but conning a farmer into a meal and then riding off with his horse and wagon, befriending a chimney-climbing dwarf, being locked in a closet surrounded by candy--these things don't really qualify as "high adventure." The grave robbing and the exploits of Dolly (the giant assassin without a conscience) come off more macabre than "gothically spooky" (another claim of the back cover).

Still, Ren himself is capable of surprising glimmers of humanity. His actions and his desires do elicit sympathy, though his alleged search for the nature of morality is a theme only dented, not delved into. But Ren is the only character who doesn't produce a sense that I'm (perhaps appropriately) being conned--these are hastily sketched plot vehicles claiming to be carefully developed characters.

This is a novel that shines sporadically. While its whole disappoints, some of its individual scenes feel genuine. Not a bad book, nor a great one. ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
When the one-handed boy known only as Ren is "adopted" from the St. Anthony's Orphanage by a man claiming to be his brother, the pair embark on a Dickensian journey through the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. in the mid-1800s, perpetrating larcenies both petty and grand.

Tinti is less wordy than Dickens (fortunately), but does rely on colorful characters to populate her story and coincidence to resolve the plot and tuck in all the details.

It's a satisfying read for all of that. Suitable for the older YA audience (there is considerable blood-letting and a murder or two along the way), but complex enough to satisfy the adult reader as well. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Dec 14, 2018 |
Beautifully written. Ren, a one-handed orphan left at a monastery as an infant is surprised when a man turns up claiming to be his long lost brother. Armed with a story of how Indians scalped their parents, he rescues Ren from his lonely life and takes him on the road, conning locals wherever they end up. Was he conning Ren as well? ( )
  04hcarter | Jul 18, 2017 |
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Epigraph
If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dedication
For my sisters, Hester and Honorah
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The man arrived after morning prayers.
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Ren had read the ending many times, and he still felt terrible about it. Hawkeye spent the entire novel fighting Indians and righting wrongs, but when he left Judith to her lonely fate, he always seemed less of a hero.
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Hannah Tinti chatted with LibraryThing members from Aug 24, 2009 to Sep 4, 2009. Read the chat.

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