The Good Theif by Hannah Tinti

Posted: May 20, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Hannah Tinti’s debut novel, The Good Thief, is a marvelous adventure story that has been hailed as Dickensian and embodies a rich sense of mystery and magic. The novel features a young boy who has grown up in an orphanage as a crippled outcast. Ren desperately desires to know who his parents are and how he lost his hand as an infant. When a mysterious man comes to the monastic orphanage claiming to be a long lost brother Ren feels hope for the first time. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that Benjamin Nab, his ‘brother,’ is a con artist and a magnificently convincing storyteller—he discovers that Benjamin’s fantastic tale of Ren’s conception is false. Despite Ren’s disappointment, he enjoys the scandalous adventures that he and Benjamin embark upon. Ren treads carefully between his rigorous Catholic upbringing and Benjamin’s corrupt code of ethics, and discovers how to become a good thief.

Tinti, who is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of a non-profit literary magazine One Story, found her inspiration for The Good Thief in a oft forgotten word: Resurrection Men. Graveyards had long been a place that held Tinti’s interest, and the idea of men who robbed graves, a hideous endeavor, juxtaposed with their desire to save lives through science brought to life Ren’s fears and dreams and helped him realize his identity. Ren kept his stump of an arm hidden in his shirt, just as his personal identity was hidden from himself. He waited his entire life to discover who his mother was and why she would abandon him, and he believed that until he discovered his history he would not be whole. This tale explores the wholeness of body and mind, and delves into the pain, loneliness, and confusion experienced by all children as they grope for explanations and a greater understanding of the meaning of their own existence.

Tinti skillfully weaves a tale that is wrought with tension through the eyes of a child, and she uses just enough magic and mystique to pique the reader’s interest without stepping into the world of fantasy. These subtle moments are told through Ren’s perspective as realistic, yet the reader is able to intuit the notions as fictitious as in Benjamin’s story of Ren’s birthplace; “The birds that lived in those branches were as large as donkeys and would take away dogs and children to feed their young a mile high in the sky’ (31). These moments spark the imagination inherent in children and so often forgotten by adults, and it transports readers of all ages into a world where anything is possible, both good and bad. The idea of a story inside of a story is also a truly delightful technique, and Tinti wields it with mindful craft.

The Good Thief is fast paced and difficult to put down. The setting is vivid and well conceived from the little wooden door that abandoned infants are passed through at the orphanage, to the graveyard, and to Mrs. Sand’s complex and homey boarding house. Tinti uses suspense and intrigue that leaves the reader wanting more after they’ve finished the novel. The chapters are short, which adds to the fast paced feeling of the story. This story is captivating and entertaining. Every little detail is utilized in more than one aspect of the story, and because they are so skillfully woven into the action, these details never feel like plot devices. Tinti spent six years working on her debut novel, and it is an extraordinary contribution to modern adventure that both young adults and adults will enjoy for years to come. Bravo!

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