Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: LIFE AFTER THEFT by Aprilynne Pike

Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto. 

No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff, so--in hopes of bringing an end to the snarkiest haunting in history--he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business." But when the enmity between Kimberlee and Jeff's new crush, Sera, manages to continue posthumously, Jeff wonders if he's made the right choice.

Clash meets sass in this uproarious modern-day retelling of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel.
First of all, not having read The Scarlet Pimpernel, I have no idea how Life After Theft rates as a retelling. I didn't even know it WAS a retelling until after I pasted the synopsis into this review. Really, after requesting the ARC from Edelweiss, I must have forgotten the entire synopsis, because I completely forgot the story was about a boy and not the girl on the cover (Kimberlee). When your first-person narrator suddenly throws out that his name is Jeff when you're expecting a chick, it makes for a very confusing first page.

Still, despite the misleading cover, I enjoyed Life After Theft much more than I expected.

The story opens as Jeff arrives at his new school. His parents have dragged him away from his home in Phoenix to move to California so his mom can fulfill her dreams of becoming an actress. Jeff's happy for his mom, but really, who changes states in the middle of the school year? Being the new kid is tough, and it's even tougher when people start to think you're nuts because you talk to an invisible dead girl.

For reasons never explained, Jeff is the only one who can see the recently departed Kimberlee Schaffer, a kleptomaniac who had complete run of the school until a riptide swept her out to sea. Now that Kimberlee has a living henchman to do her biding, she hounds Jeff into agreeing to help her return her trove of stolen goods in hope that she will finally be able to be at peace.

From the very beginning, when Jeff nearly trips over Kimberlee in the hallway, I got a very strong The Ghost and the Goth vibe, which tickled me to no end. I thoroughly enjoyed Stacey Kade's series, so I was crossing my fingers that Life After Theft would live up to its comp title. I did think that Ms. Pike did a great job in the end, though she went a different direction than TGatG.

For the most part, Life After Theft is heavy on the contemporary and light on the paranormal, despite featuring a ghost as a main character. The driving plot of the story is laying Kimberlee to rest, which involves a hijinky plotline where Jeff is forced to return an entire cave full of stolen goods to fellow students, teachers, and local businesses. Kimberlee was very sticky-fingered in life. However, the emotional arc steals the show as Kimberlee and Jeff learn life lessons, Jeff gains new allies in his quest and is eventually forced to choose between Kimberlee and his new girlfriend Sera. As to be expected, there's drama, secrets, betrayal, and so forth. Kimberlee is not the prime candidate for self-reflection, not even when faced with her most heinous crimes, most of which involved Sera and her family.

I will say that I really enjoyed all of the characters I met along the way. Jeff, to me, read as a very realistic teenage boy, while Kimberlee was the typical spoiled rich girl with hidden personal issues. I grew to enjoy them and was genuinely invested in their story. However, my true favorites were Sera and Khail, Jeff's main ally. Sera in particular is a multi-layered character that I genuinely appreciated. Also, may I say that the fact that Sera is a positive influence in helping steer Jeff away from peer-pressure-associated drinking and partying is a total relief? You go, girl! You and Jeff's totally functional family, much love to all of you!

I only have a few issues that nagged me. First, some of Kimberlee's circumstances were less than logical. For instance, as she isn't tied to the school, why would she bother to show up day after day? If I were dead and without hope of my circumstances ever changing, I would at least try a change of scenery. You can hardly charge a ghost international airfare. Also, why is she shown in her school uniform? She didn't die in it, so why is that her default clothing option? And WHAT is the deal with Langdon?

Second, while Jeff and Sera's relationship is sweet, I'm always annoyed at teen couples who throw out the L-word after, like, a month. Seriously? The old lady in me just rolls her eyes and sighs.

Lastly, and this is a big one, the ending was... weird. It just stops. There's some closure, but not nearly the amount that I was expecting. I'm of two minds about this. First, I wonder if Ms. Pike is setting the stage for a sequel/companion novel. If so, I'm a little cranky. However, if Life After Theft is truly a standalone, I'm still a little cranky but also just a little impressed. It was a very bold ending in its abruptness. I'm sure many people will call it lazy or unimaginative, but I thought it was refreshingly nonstandard and somehow it fit the rest of the book. I don't know how to explain it, but it did.

As a reader who doesn't usually connect with either paranormal or contemporary stories, I can't say Life After Theft blew me away. It was neither twisty nor gripping, a radical departure for this dystopia/sci-fi/fantasy girl. However, there were enough strong characters, fascinating relationships, and just a little bit of an It Factor that made me smile that I left far from disappointed. Should Ms. Pike pull a sequel out of her back pocket, I will not be the least bit dismayed.

Favorite Quote:
You'd think that if my head was going to make someone up it would give me someone nice. I was feeling officially betrayed.
Points Added For: Sera, Khail, the Red Rose Returner hijinks, functional families, portraying underage drinking/heavy partying in a negative light rather than just status quo.

Points Subtracted For: Gaps in internal logic, a very startling ending.

Good For Fans Of: The Ghost and the Goth (and its sequels) by Stacey Kade, sarcastic/spoiled rich girls being taught a lesson, high school contemporaries.

Notes For Parents: Language, underage drinking, non-explicit sex, homosexuality, theft, mentions of drug use, and (spoiler) suicide.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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