Art Thieves at 15: A Review of Heist Society by Ally Carter.
Updated: Apr 16
This week, I want to delve into the books of my past. So let’s go back a decade and pay a visit to one of my favorite books from my middle school years: Heist Society by Ally Carter.
Published in 2010, Heist Society follows teenaged thief Katerina “Kat” Bishop. She’s grown up in a family of world renowned thieves and con artists; seriously, her earliest memories are of helping her father pull off cons. By age 15, Kat wants out of the family business and even manages to enroll herself in a prestigious boarding school.
That doesn’t sit well with her friends and family. You see, one does not simple walk away from the thief life. And it’s not long till one of her dearest friends gets her expelled from the school she worked hard to con her way into. On top of getting expelled, Kat learns that her father, the notorious Bobby Bishop, is being targeted by a mobster whose precious art collection has been stolen. The only problem is; Bobby Bishop didn’t pull off this heist because he was stealing from a different art collection at the time. It’s up to Kat and a small group of teenaged thieves to find, and re-steal, these missing pieces before anything happens to her father.
A high point of this book is that Carter knows that her audience isn’t unintelligent and can understand the planning of the heist. Even after reading this book again nearly ten years later, the text does not feel dumbed down because the target audience is young teens. This book may not be realistic in quite a few ways, but this is a light, fun read and I’m not going to fault the book for that. This book knows that it’s doing nothing new; it’s just being a fun, humorous, relaxing time.
My other high point are the characters’ relationships with one another. This is a book about family first and foremost. It’s a book about biological and found family. Most of the characters have known each other for their entire lives, those who aren’t biologically related have still been apart of this family and pulled heists together for a few years.
My favorite of the relationships is between our heroine Kat and 16-year-old W.W. Hale the Fifth. He’s a rich teenager that Kat met and brought home after attempting to steal his family’s Monet. The pair have been the best of friends and thick as thieves, literally, since they met. They have this flirty, witty banter that comes from years of friendship and consistent companionship. Those years together do lead to romantic feelings between the pair. Listen, I’m just a sucker for the friends turned lovers trope. And while the pair don’t end up together by the end of Heist Society, it gives readers something to look forward to in future installments.
Sure, Heist Society also has a slightly forced love triangle between Hale, Kat, and another boy named Nick. But let’s be real, a love triangle is to be expected in books targeted towards middle school aged girls; especially ones from a decade ago.
The other relationship that I really like in this book is between the cousins Kat and Gabrielle. After Kat leaves for boarding school, Gabrielle’s thoughts towards Kat changes. Gabrielle believes that Kat doesn’t want anything to do with their family anymore. That’s far from the truth, and I enjoy seeing these two work through their differences and make up by the end of the book.
Truly my only qualm with this book is just how unrealistic these characters can be. Like I said, I love the relationships between the characters and I love the Oceans 11 vibes this book has, but it has CW type teenagers. Everyone is super pretty, super buff, totally looks like they are in their 20’s and not their teens. This book is a fun, light read; the world doesn’t matter for a few hours when reading this. It just stretches my extension of disbelief a little too much at this point in my life.
At 13, I definitely could believe that Hale was a suave, debonair, super rich teenager. At 23 I can only believe the last part of that sentence. There is a massive difference between having a good poker face and being a criminal mastermind; the teens shouldn’t be at that criminal mastermind level yet when the leader of the pack is still technically under 16-years-old. All the teens should be more awkward, and definitely shouldn’t look they’re in their twenties.
It doesn’t help that each member of the heist team is an archetype. Kat is the mastermind behind the heist. Hale is one of the actors/distractions of the team and he also finances most of the cons the group pulls. Gabrielle is the seductive actress/distraction; in Heist Society she’s mainly used as an attractive distraction for the guards but in the later books she does more than use her looks which I deeply appreciate. There are three other members of the team who I haven’t mentioned yet: Angus and Hamish, twin brothers who Kat’s uncle has taken under his wing, and Simon who is a tech wiz. If you couldn’t tell from my introduction to him, Simon is the brains of the operations who spends his time hacking into security systems. Angus and Hamish are the demolition experts for the young crew and end up doing the odd jobs the others can’t or won’t do.
The longer this series goes on the characters do grow out of their archetypes. The main character growth is seen in Gabrielle and Hale who become more than just distractions by taking on more roles within the group. I appreciate this character growth and enjoy watching these characters grow as people in the later books, but I do wish these characters weren’t mainly archetypes in the first book. Alas, you can't have it all.
It was fun to escape back into this book for the first time in years. I knew exactly what was going to happen, but it was still a fun ride. With 2020 being a trash fire of a year, reading a familiar book from my younger years was just the thing I needed in my life at this point in time. Heist Society is nothing ground breaking, but it knows what it is and that is a fun way to spend an afternoon.