TGIF, book lovers! Our page turner for this weekend is Coin Heist by YA novelist Elisa Ludwig, author of Pretty Sly and Pretty Crooked. The book has recently been turned into a Netflix original movie, and I’m going to tell you why. This book is awesome! But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The last place you’d expect to find a team of criminals is at a prestigious Philadelphia prep school. But on a class trip to the U.S. Mint – which prints a million new coins every 30 minutes – an overlooked security flaw becomes far too tempting for a small group of students to ignore.
United by dire circumstances, these unlikely allies – the nerd, the slacker, the athlete, and the perfect student – band together to attempt the impossible: rob the U.S. Mint. This diverse crew is forced to confront their true beliefs about each other and themselves as they do the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Elisa Ludwig’s Coin Heist is a fun, suspenseful and compelling thriller, told from the revolving perspectives of four teens, each with their own motive for committing a crime that will change all of their lives – if they can pull it off.
(Note: There is a spoiler in this review. I’ll let you know when it’s coming up so if you don’t want to know the end you can stop reading. I hate to ruin a good story.)
As much as I want to give this book a full 5 Stars, I just can’t do it. (Trust me, I really want to.) Elisa Ludwig has crafted a finely tuned narrative here, reminiscent of my own childhood high school heroes (à la The Breakfast Club) but reimagined for the millennial (and beyond audience). These are all around smart kids. Ludwig puts into practice an Einstein quote I’ve seen making the rounds, which reads “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that its stupid.” Coin Heist is this quote in practice. So much of the subtext of this story is about judgement, and everything about the caper is about genius.
The four kids who come together in this story to do something crazy and supposedly impossible (rob the US Mint) are all crazy smart and talented in their own ways. Dakota is the perfect student/popular girl who is queen of the high school, but though smart as a whip, she has a secret that might make her seem a little less than the “perfect” she’s supposed to be. Benny is the jock, but he also just happens to be a mechanical engineering genius; just because he’s quiet doesn’t mean he has nothing to say–but that projected stoicism might get him into trouble. Jason is the classic jackass–slacker, class clown, stoner; but his seeming lack of ambition and focus points toward a deeper issue and a greater skill set. And Alice (character of my heart) is the nerd, a technological genius who has the chops to hack into anything–she thinks… maybe… we’ll see. Their isn’t a dud among the group, and that seems to be exactly Ludwig’s point.
These four kids who have lived in each other’s periphery for most of their schooling years, don’t even realize they notice each other or that it matters until a crisis brings them together. When a scandal rocks their prep school, each one of them finds themselves facing the very real possibility of a life altering event–the school closing. For all of them this is a rubber meets the road moment, as they reflect on what this means for their futures. A chance trip to the US Mint supplies the kernel of an idea that blossoms into a full conspiracy–that just might work.
High school is a crazy time. Period. This Coin Heist does a great job of demonstrating why. Somehow Ludwig combines the real feeling of school days (exuberant and exciting, painful and soul crushing) with this absolutely fantastical (I hope) heist situation. There is no Disney or Nickelodeon in her approach. For YA readers looking for some entertainment with just enough grit to feel real, Ludwig has written something just for them. A fresh perspective on stereotypical kids that complicates the labels, celebrating diversity without a cliche “kumbaya” moment, fraught with conflict and problems that these high schoolers have to overcome without adult intervention–YES!
But here’s the rub…
(If you do not want to know the end, do not read any further! You have been duly warned.)
As much as I love Ludwig’s approach here, and I even love the uncertainty of the end, the problem is…
The kids get away with it! Elisa Ludwig has written a story in which there are no real consequences for criminal behavior in a YA book. While it can be argued that this adds to the realism–people do honestly get away with crimes every day. The vast majority of criminals are never caught. I get it. But is that the moral we want kids to walk away with? There’s also an argument that every book doesn’t need to espouse morals, or even that the themes Ludwig takes on are even more important than that–I mean the kids do it for a really good cause. Yes, yes and yes. But still–NO. These kids actually get caught by a responsible adult, but his every effort to adjudicate some appropriate consequences are thwarted. This just doesn’t sit right with this reader. Although it does smell like sequel…
Come on, Elisa Ludwig… it’s been a year since this book originally dropped. Give us the next episode!
Kate E. Stephenson is a freelance communications specialist whose business encompasses content writing, comprehensive editing and quality resume services. Lexicon is her brainchild, a blog all about Language—insight into today’s job market and hiring tips, book releases and reviews, and general folly concerning the many mysterious facets of the English language and human communication. Be sure to read more about Kate, check out a full listing of services, and enjoy her columns here on Lexicon and on Kate.Book.com!