I started eyeballing Hannah Tinti's debut novel, The Good Thief, when it released last year but I had so much to read at the time I had to pass it up. Happily, it just released in paperback. It also happens to be the staff recommended title at my store....so it looked like a good time to read about Ren and his thieving ways.*
Ren owes a great deal to his Dickensian predecessor, Oliver Twist. Both boys are orphaned as infants, both are initiated into a circle of thieves, and both are reunited with a natural family member by a seemingly miraculous twist of fate. Tinti's novel seems gloomy, set on the cold New England coast, and opens on St. Anthony's Orphanage. The monks of St. Anthony's attempt to care for the foundlings left with them until either adopted or the age of 14 when the young men are conscripted into the army. Ren's chances of adoption are slim because he is missing his left hand, the arm ending in a mass of scar tissue; the source of this injury, and that of Ren's parentage, is completely unknown but a mysterious stranger, Benjamin Nab, comes to claim Ren and so begins Ren's adventure.
Ren is innately talented as a thief but also attempts to retain a sense of right and wrong as he enters into the world of the con artists and swindlers. The story unfolds through Ren's perspective and because Tinti makes him a child who is still young enough to dream, but old enough to be realistic about his world, Ren is a welcome departure from the angelic Oliver. The cast of characters in Tinti's novel would do Dickens proud - Tom the ex-schoolteacher, Brom and Ichy the orphaned twins, the gentle giant Dolly - and they lend a lot of color to the simple tale of an orphan in search of a family. I enjoyed how Tinti played with the Dickensian motifs but gave the story a realistic edge. There is a lot of humor in this novel as well, a little slapstick, too, so this was a fun book to read.
*Since I finished the novel September 24, I noticed that I used it for two Teaser Tuesday posts and somehow managed to pick two passages only a few pages apart. Haha.