Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: Heist Society by Ally Carter

Found via: Liz B. at Teacozy

Kat Bishop comes from a family of thieves. Her father expects her to continue in the family business, but Kat wants out. So she puts all of her skills to work in order to gain entry to a prestigious boarding school where she can have a nice, normal life.

Until her father gets in trouble, and it's up to Kat to save him.

Kat's father is the only suspect in an elaborate art heist, that has all the earmarks of previous heists he's committed. He has the perfect alibi: if he was doing a small job in Paris that night, how could he have done a big job in Italy? But the Italian billionaire whose paintings were stolen is convinced Kat's dad is guilty, and coerces Kat to convince her father to return them.

Kat believes her father's alibi, but also knows he's in incredible danger unless she can get those paintings back. She has two weeks to figure out where the paintings are hidden, and, if necessary, figure out how to steal them back.

Of course, no heist like this could be pulled off by one person. Kat pulls together a group of young criminals, including several childhood friends who grew up in the con business; her friend Hale, who's been practically adopted into the family; her often-obnoxious cousin Gabrielle; and Nick, the new guy who got Kat's attention by picking her pocket (at the same time that she picked his). As the clock keeps ticking, the pressure keeps mounting as Kat and her team try to pull off what may be the greatest heist in history.

First, I need to get this out of the way: this is a slickly designed book. Check out the cover:
Heist Society by Ally Carter cover

It's big and bold and while I don't think the model quite looks like Kat (she's described often as being hopelessly unfashionable) it captures the mood of the book well. The smirk makes the model look a little cheeky, which is definitely a way to describe Kat. If the movie gets made, the poster's already done, just replace the model here with the actor and you've got a slick poster. It's also so refreshingly different from the covers of Carter's Gallagher Girls series (see the covers of all of Carter's books here), which all chop the face off of the models, which is a trend I just can't stand. Also the book keeps a clear countdown so we know exactly how many days Kat has left to pull off her heist, and where she's at now, as she crisscrosses Europe in her search for the paintings. The countdown pages are filled with old-looking maps and every time I came to one I got the theme from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? stuck in my head.

However, slick design doesn't make up for the fact that this book hit one of my major pet peeves: seeming to go out of its way to fail the Bechdel Test.

Heist Society has exactly two female characters who get more than a page of screen time: Kat and Gabrielle. There's also a female Interpol agent who is in charge of tracking Kat's father, but we hardly see her, and certainly don't see her talking to Kat or Gabrielle. There are no women in Kat's extended thief family (her mother died years ago for no reason other than to make another character sympathetic towards Kat). No women work in museums or are art historians, or even serve hot chocolate in the Alps. When Kat and Gabrielle talk, they're usually being bitchy to each other (I never figured out if there was an actual reason for this animosity), and often being passive aggressive about a boy.

The point where I got absolutely furious about this, however, is when Kat and Gabrielle go to confront the man who's blackmailing Kat and her father. Gabrielle accompanies Kat as "the muscle" so this guy can't just kidnap Kat or whatever. Gabrielle doesn't say a word for the entire scene. It's all about Kat. What the hell was the point of sending Gabrielle along? It was epically disappointing.

The ending clearly sets this up to be the first in a series (though it's not a ridiculous cliffhanger - the story is 99% self contained, with one major element to be picked up as a plot point in another book), and I might even pick up the second one, but I can't guarantee I'll finish it if the gender disparity continues the way this one did.
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