I love it when a plan comes together and teens are doing it for themselves. When there is no namby-pamby, sissified hand-wringing or waiting for an adult to tell them what to do or help them out of a tough situation. These teens are smart, emotionally mature, able to hack computers and security systems at will, fly around the world without supervision, con adults without batting an eye, do blackbelt kung fu, jump from airplanes and whose moral compasses lurk in the grey areas of problem solving. In other words, I want these characters to be my best friends. Books like these are what I mean by the phrase, "reading for fun." Not all reading is fun. Homer's The Odyssey is a really good book to read but is it fun? Not so much. The following books are roller coaster rides of adventure and FUN to read. Trust me.
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Ooh-wee! Is this book awesome! I could leave it at that but I am sure I should explain why I love it so much. Think Ocean's Eleven crossed with the Thomas Crown Affair only with teen characters and you start to get the idea.
Katarina, Kat for short, finally escaped the family business of crime and cons by conning her way into a prestigious boarding school. The escape is short lived when she is informed by a former colleague, Hale (wayward son of a billionaire), that her estranged father has been accused of stealing priceless paintings from a dangerous Italian mobster. He has two weeks to return the paintings but he can't do anything as he is being watched by Interpol. Certain of her father's innocence, Kat decides to help her father out by finding the paintings, stealing them back and returning them to their owner. To do this she must put together her own crew of teen criminals, criss cross the world and pull off one of the biggest art heists in history.
Adding to that adventure are the questions: Why didn't the mobster report the paintings stolen to police? What is Kat's past with Hale? Where is Kat's mother? And who is the criminal mastermind who stole the paintings in the first place? There are so many good things to say about this book: the depth and relationships of the likeable, eccentric characters, the exquisite pacing and plotting of the heists, the lavish settings and exotic locations, the hint of romance. Readers will be drooling for a sequel or see the movie (which is currently in the works) whichever comes first.
Thieves Like Us by Stephen Cole
Combine Indiana Jones-like missions with an elite crew of teen criminals, each with their own special talents and you get Thieves Like Us. Jonah is a hacker/code breaker extraordinaire, who is broken out of a juvie facility by the crew so that he can join them in their quests. They include: Patch, an expert lock picker, Motti, who deals with electrical systems, Con, a mesmerizing con artist and Tye, a human lie detector and martial arts expert. Together they travel the world and live in a teen's dream mansion in the Italian countryside filled with video games and junk food all under the guardianship of Nathanial Coldhardt, a shadowy billionaire with questionable motives. In exchange for this lavish lifestyle, they steal Coldhardt priceless ancient artifacts with mystical properties.
This story and its sequel Thieves Til We Die are all about action, action, action and more action. There is not much in the way of character development but they are a blast to read. Who goes to see an action flick for the character development? The same goes with these books. Still, there is plenty to love in the exotic locations, quippy dialogue and great escapes.
Finding Lubchenko by Michael Simmons
You can file this adventure and its sequel Rise of Lubchenko under: ethics, lack of. They are the adventures of Evan Macalister, 16, professional smart-aleck, petty thief, expert slacker and son of a overbearing, wealthy C.E.O. in Seattle. In Finding Lubchenko, Evan, forced to work at his father's medical company for minimum wage, supplements his income by stealing office equipment and selling it on eBay. When his father is arrested for murdering a colleague, Evan realizes that the evidence to clear his father is on a laptop that he stole that afternoon. So he can either turn over the laptop to police and expose his scheme and face the wrath of his father or he can steal a credit card, fly to Europe and solve the mystery himself and of course, he chooses the latter. He and his friends fly off to Paris to meet up with the mysterious Lubchenko and figure out why and who framed his father.
Evan is the perfect anti-hero. He does things his own way, breaks all the rules and defies authority. However, at the end of the day, he gets the job done, helps the helpless and good untimately triumphs over evil. So what if a few laws get broken along the way? There is more than enough action to keep readers on the edge of their seats as well as give them a moral question to ponder - do the ends truly justify the means? Or, like any good James Bond movie does it really matter how the good guys win as long as the bad guys lose?
The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
Speaking of James Bond... the Alex Rider series (about a teenaged spy ala James Bond), while not heist novels, are the gold standard for teen adventure books. From the first book Stormbreaker to the latest, Crocodile Tears, Alex is an amazing character. He is brave, resilient, athletic, mentally tough and smarter than most agents working for the British spy agency MI5 (his employer) and C.I.A. combined. At every turn, 14 year old Alex outsmarts ego-manical bad guys, smug bureaucrats, battle hardened soldiers, juiced-up street toughs and the occasional hungry animal (lions, crocodiles etc), snakes, sharks and giant jelly fish. Alex may not have a lot of choice in working for MI5 but he gets the bad guys through his own ingenuity and without the help of any meddling adults. Now, if only they would leave him in peace, let him get on with his regular teenaged life so that he can go to school or go on a date or something! But where would be the fun or adventure in that?