The Good Thief is a book different from my familiar genre of choice. Written by Hannah Tinti, it tells the story of a twelve-year-old orphan boy named Ren. He has no left hand. He has no family. He has only two friends at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage. But he does have dreams. He imagines the affectionate hug from a mother and the strong love from a father. The only things he longs for are a family of his own and answers to why his hand is missing.
The boys at the orphanage live a terrifying life, knowing that if they’re never adopted then they’ll be sold (or “conscripted”) into the army. Ren knows he’ll never be selected; who would want to take a boy without a hand? But, to his surprise, a man named Benjamin Nab shows up one day and claims to be Ren’s long-lost brother. Ren is taken in under Ben’s wing, and they set off down the rugged roads of 19th century America.
The young orphan is thrown suddenly into a world of con-artists and grave robbers, quite unlike anything he’s ever seen before. And it doesn’t take long for Ren to question Ben’s so called kinship.
Hannah Tinti spins a fascinating adventure through New England in old-time America. The characters, while somewhat clichés, are well developed, especially the protagonist Ren. His simple way of thinking is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always truthful. The plot lacks any major sense of conflict and struggle, and instead seems to be a collection of several mini-conflicts (excepting Ren’s past). The real beauty of The Good Thief, and definitely the best thing about the book, was the prose. Tinti’s word choice was always spot on. I could smell the fish towns as the travelers rode through. I could see the body’s decaying as the graves were robbed. She wrote wonderfully, and reading was always a pleasure.
As I mentioned, the only thing I could consider a problem for the book was that there really wasn’t a lot of major conflicts to present themselves. No chief antagonist, if you will, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. The somewhat clichéd characters could be a problem if you’re readily familiar with Dickens or Mark Twain, but for me this didn’t really bother me at all.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. When I break from the speculative fiction genre, this is the kind of book I enjoy reading. It’s light and simple, but also filled with punches that easily rattle around the brain. It’s refreshing to think naively as a twelve year old from time to time.
If you’re looking for a short, simple read, beautifully written prose, or another orphan adventure story, I can easily recommend Hanna Tinti’s The Good Thief. And where the plot lacks, the prose more than picks up the slack.