A note about tone: unlike the boy spy and amateur vigilante/detective books reviewed above, let alone the Alex Rider books themselves, Ally Carter's books are lighthearted, fast-paced, and practically cute. Her work reminds me a lot of Meg Cabot's, with feisty heroines, conversations about clothes and boys, and plenty of humor. She also sprinkles in clever, good-looking boys who are attracted to our girl heroes. But saying that makes both Cabot and Carter's books sound like sheer fluff, and I would hasten to assert that one brand of good storytelling is, well, simply entertaining, with more of a movie/TV sensibility than a heavy-duty literary one.
In that light, I'll tell you that I got a real kick out of reading Heist Society. Here's how the flap copy starts out:
When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre...to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria...to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.
Soon an old friend named Hale shows up and tells Kat that her father needs her help. One of the best thieves in the world, Kat's dad has been accused of stealing paintings from a very scary Italian business tycoon, the kind who employs his own people for handling payback. Disbelieving Kat's claims that her father is innocent, the man gives Kat a deadline for getting his paintings back. He also has his goons spy on Kat while she's working on the problem.
As the title suggests, this is a heist book. Think Ocean's Eleven with a group of teenagers. Although Carter's plot is stronger at some points than others, the overall trajectory of the story works. And teenage girl readers will enjoy the obvious attraction between Hale and Kat, as well as Kat's jealousy towards her beautiful, too-cool cousin, Gabrielle.
Kat is at the heart of the story, and while her unwillingness to see how much Hale likes her seems a little silly, her worries about the threat to her father and about engineering a successful heist in a nearly thief-proof museum make her all too human, someone readers will cheer for. (The only truly credulity-straining plot point is Kat's assumption about the location of the paintings, a gigantic leap upon which to base an entire heist! But oh well...)
Carter gives us some fun touches, such as the names of cons and strategies that our seasoned young thieves throw around during their planning meetings, e.g., Groundhog and Fallen Angels. Kat's team includes colorful characters, as does her larcenous family. We meet the mysterious Nick, an apparent rival for Kat's affections, and we glimpse the handiwork of a legendary thief, Romani, who takes a special interest in recovering artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Plenty of sequel fodder here.
Heist Society is the kind of book that will make you smile—or, if you don't smile, your teenage daughter will. Because even though I really like Alex Rider's seriousness, it's a nice change to meet up with Ally Carter's version of the YA suspense story. One with a definite sense of humor.
Note for Worried Parents: This book is listed for YA, but it's pretty wholesome. I'm guessing some parents might not want their kids to read a book that glorifies teen thieves, though Kat is presented as being conflicted about her family's career in general, not to mention about the possibility of going to jail. Overall, she tends to have kind of a Robin Hood sensibility. There is some teen attraction in this book, also talk about how sexy Gabrielle looks. When Kat's boy buddies see her dressed up (for the first time), they comment with humorous amazement that she has boobs. Otherwise, we get some hugging, a quick kiss or two, and that's about it.