The obvious and inevitable comparison that this book will invite is to Vikas Swarup's Q & A, aka Slumdog Millionaire. So let me just get that out of the way. If you enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, if you were not so distracted by its images of radiant children amid filthy squalor and nearly hopeless generational poverty that you were unable to enjoy the story, you will appreciate this book.
That doesn't look right. I guess I should say I loved that movie, love Vikas Swarup. I love India, and I didn't think that Slumdog Millionaire was about poverty. Not that poverty isn't an important subject. Sigh. I give up. Why don't I just review She Thief.
She Thief is the story of Demi and Baz, boy and girl, best friends, orphans, about 11-12 years old, living in the slums of a hot, crowded Latin American city. I was thinking São Paulo until I realized they called people Señor. So, B.A.? Bogotá? Quito? Like that.
Demi and Baz make their living as pickpockets, and live with a gang of similar kids under the nominal care and tutelage of an adult named Fay. I've referenced Dickens once in the past month, so I'm not going to do it again. Just take as read the juxtaposition of dire circumstance and tender loyalty, the contrast between venal adults and vulnerable children, will you?
And head straight for the good stuff. For this is a good novel. This is one of those rare items that is all action, full of narrow escapes and scenic chases, but also all heart. While also being a terrific, brainy suspense novel, all twists and strategy. Baz and Demi are a little simplified, but consistent. Their relationship is beautifully drawn - the way they rely on each other, irritate each other, walk through fire for each other. Questions of trust and loyalty suffuse the book, and each supporting character is written with more than enough depth and dimension to allow the reader to assess and reassess them as Baz must.
Daniel Finn immerses us in the culture of Baz and Demi's city. Its heat and geography, colors, daily rhythm, patois, street sounds, and food all appear as incidental detail - it's a world as meticulously built and fully realized as any fantasy setting. It is a welcome item in the Young Adult section, a book that looks outward, inviting us to think what life might be like if our circumstances were entirely - entirely - different.
I'm telling you, I kept thinking Graham Greene. It's literature, and it's also exciting.