The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell
Historical fiction is one of my top genres, so I was eager to read this book set in depression-era New York City with my Li’l Peach. Just like mum, the budding bookworm is a lover of history. We had only ever read non-fiction books about the past, so this was an exciting read that introduced him to a beloved genre.
At the commencement of this fast-paced story, Vita and her mother had just traversed the ocean from England to assist her ailing grandfather. Her mother was hopeful that with the clearing up of his financial affairs, he would return to the UK with them in the coming weeks. The loose ends would take a little more work to clear up than anyone had imagined, least of all Vita.
The frail man defeatedly admitted that for a mere two hundred dollars, the equivalent of three thousand today, he had been scammed out of ownership of the historic family castle by a bulldozing, real-estate mogul. Although her grandfather seemed resigned to this fact and his inability to do anything about it, Vita had other plans.
If she could get into the castle and dig out some abandoned treasure, they would use the proceeds from the sale of the gem to get a fancy lawyer and set things straight. This lofty goal would seem all the more difficult to achieve given her apparent limitations: the painful and maldeveloped foot she acquired from her battle with Polio years earlier and her ignorance about the big city that she now must expertly navigate.
Possible impediments aside, our fearless heroine ventures out on her own to do a recognisance mission when she ends up crossing paths with my favourite character of the book. Silk, a homeless young teen, rough around the edges and tough-as-nails, is a hustling pick-pocket, the perfect match for the courageous Vita. As fate would have it, she also befriends Samuel and Arkady – performers in a travelling circus running temporarily at Carnegie Hall, just across the way from where her grandfather lives. Together they form a tattered yet tenacious crew of ‘good thieves,’ and the story jets off from there.
Bravery, ability, and determination are the guiding forces for this talented gang of kids as they seek to defeat the scoundrel Sorratore as he stealthily attempts to snatch up historic properties across New York City. Thanks to their diverse skillset: Samuel the acrobat, Arkady the animal whisperer, Silk the street hustler, and Vita with the expert aim – a skill she picked up when she was a small child, under the tutelage of her now infirm grandfather – a tightly-woven plan was all they would need to succeed.
The all-important red notebook held the path to victory as Vita prepared every step needed for things to come together. Unfortunately for them, they met much friction along the way. Vita is an admirable role model for young readers, as her organisational skills and strong leadership are matched only by her grit to fight through the discomfort and pain of her mission.
There were teachable moments throughout the story, as themes of family, friendship, loyalty, racism, crime, and dishonesty are in abundance. Visually evocative scenes play out as Rundell transports us through the bustle of Manhattan, the landscapes of suburban New York, and the majesty of the decaying castle.
Endearing characters, an exciting plot, appropriate pacing, and sheer enjoyment have me rating this middle-grade fiction gem 4.5 peaches and adding Rundell’s other popular offering, Rooftoppers, to my list without delay.
Have you or your little ones read The Good Thieves or Rooftoppers, and if so, what did you think?