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The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief

by Hannah Tinti

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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 |
I think I was expecting too much from this book, highly recommended by some, disliked by others. A cast of rowdy characters and young orphan boys are swept into circumstances that are quite unbelievable. Thievery and violence took over the plot, leaving me somewhat depressed and disappointed in the book. I found some portions to be clever and original, but all in all I'm not impressed with this author's style. My humble opinion. I'm swaying between 2 and 3 stars, but giving the benefit of the doubt. ( )
  NanceeM | Dec 23, 2017 |
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 |
This is a wonderful, touching novel full of characters that you root for and come to care about. The time period is not specified, but feels early 1900's. The main character is Ren, a young boy raised in a Catholic orphanage and missing one hand. He was left at the orphanage as a baby in secret, and no one knows who his parents were and why he was left there. Men come occasionally to the orphanage to adopt a child, but no one wants a boy with one hand. Ren yearns for a family and dreads his inevitable induction into the army, but one day a miracle occurs. A man named Benjamin shows up claiming Ren as his brother, and tells a long tale of an Indiana attack that killed their parents and took Ren’s missing hand. Ren’s dream of being adopted comes true, but Benjamin is not the brother he claims, and soon Ren is involved in small-time cons, thievery and grave-robbing adventures with Benjamin and his partner Tom. I really enjoyed reading this story and loved the many different characters. Personally I’m hoping for a sequel to find out what happened next. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
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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
For my sisters, Hester and Honorah
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The man arrived after morning prayers.
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385337450, Hardcover)

Richly imagined, gothically spooky, and replete with the ingenious storytelling ability of a born novelist, The Good Thief introduces one of the most appealing young heroes in contemporary fiction and ratifies Hannah Tinti as one of our most exciting new talents.

Twelve year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys. He longs for a family to call his own and is terrified of the day he will be sent alone into the world.

But then a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren’s long-lost brother, and his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand and his parents persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and to give Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? Journeying through a New England of whaling towns and meadowed farmlands, Ren is introduced to a vibrant world of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves. If he stays, Ren becomes one of them. If he goes, he’s lost once again. As Ren begins to find clues to his hidden parentage he comes to suspect that Benjamin not only holds the key to his future, but to his past as well.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:03 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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Hannah Tinti chatted with LibraryThing members from Aug 24, 2009 to Sep 4, 2009. Read the chat.

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