I’d not read one of Brian James’s novels before Thief, somehow. I remember seeing them and thinking they looked interesting, but I’ve never read his other books. And after reading this one, I will have to quickly change that!

Thief is about Elizabeth, known mostly as Kid, a foster child living in New York City with a woman called Sandra, who makes her foster children earn their keep–by stealing. Elizabeth has been trained by her older foster sister, Alexi, as a pickpocket, and that’s how she spends her days. She doesn’t mind too much, because what better option is there? And this way, she’s with Alexi, and the girls have come to care a lot for each other. This way, she’s not alone. So even when she doesn’t like the way she has to live, she doesn’t question it, either.

That begins to change, however, when Sandra takes in a third foster child, this time a boy, named Dune. Dune is new to the system, and doesn’t understand the way Elizabeth’s life works. He wants to go back to a normal life, not be a pickpocket. Elizabeth takes him under her wing, training him so that Sandra will be happy and let him stay, and helping him out. She starts to care for him–but Alexi doesn’t like that. Alexi, though in her own way she does love her, is manipulative and controlling of Elizabeth. She tries to make sure that Dune and Elizabeth don’t get too close, because Elizabeth is hers, in her mind. It becomes clear to Elizabeth that she will have to make some tough choices to find her way out of a difficult situation, but can she do it, and will she do it right?

That might not be the best summary, but this is a really fantastic book. Brian James is a brilliant writer. I loved the premise of this book, and the almost-at-the-edge-of-reality writing style, if that makes any sense. It’s not really surreal like, say, Francesca Lia Block, by any means, but it’s not quite as immediate and, well, normal, as a lot of other books. It’s a lot more interesting than that. Thief is an amazing story, gritty and real and honest and, in its own way, beautiful. Thief is a bold, smart, engaging, and fascinating novel that I can’t recommend highly enough.