Multiculturalism lives and breathes in my hometown of Cambridge, and has for years, even before it became all the rage everywhere else. We all know that. Here your kids can be comfortable being, well, just about anybody. It’s one of the things we love about this place. I’ve lived here forever. So, when a novel comes along on this theme, it better be good, or forget it. Thief Girl is one of those books. The voice of fifteen-year-old Avvy is so authentic, so compelling, it pulls you right in. She immediately makes you want to sit down and listen to her whole story, right away. Authentic voice is one of those things I feel as a reader, way deep down, and either the narrator has it, or not. If the narrator has it, even if the plot is mediocre, I don’t care, I need to keep reading. If the voice is contrived on any level, even if the plot is wittier than Shakespeare, I get bored. Suffice it to say that I read Thief Girl in one sitting.
Avvy is a first-generation Chinese teenager, with a whiny little brother and hard-working parents who run a stall at the mall’s food-court. Due to a weird zoning thing she gets to attend Oak Ridge High, the ritzy high school across town, where it appears she is the only Asian student in school. (Remember, the author is Canadian. Maybe they need time to catch up.) Helping out at her parent’s stall after school, Avvy’s life straddles two worlds. Of course we see these worlds through her eyes, and her observations are tinged with just the right touch of humorous irony and honesty. Against this backdrop, the author deftly weaves several strands of story-line, which slowly and seamlessly come together into a unified whole. It all starts when Avvy finds a leather wallet on the street as she walks home with her brother after work one evening; it’s already been rifled through and all that’s left is a picture of a dog. It’s a nice wallet; unthinkingly she throws it in her backpack. It’s only later, as she pries the dog out from it’s plastic cover, that she discovers a bank card tucked in behind it. Wow. How – awful. How – exciting. When her well-meaning mother, clueless about the price of anything, gives her thirty dollars to buy a new winter jacket, Avvy is sorely tempted, but she resists. It’s only when she gets the idea to give her brother, bullied almost every day at school, martial arts lessons, that she overcomes her natural unwillingness to steal. She tries using the card at an ATM machine and discovers the account has five hundred dollars in it. One thing leads to another. She needs a new jacket (the kids at school!) her parents need a new stove (immediately!) and she learns “two things about thieving: The doing is scary but it’s quick. It’s over before you know it. And afterward you get a rush. It’s only after some time that you notice you feel different – that the rush was really part of yourself leaving. What’s left is heavier.”
Searching for herself in a world where it’s much easier to remain invisible, is the deeper theme here. As Avvy writes in a history assignment: “Governments that used multiculturalism as a basis for policy pushed the real stuff, the deep stuff, to the fringes…” Set in a totally realistic world of high school classes, art projects, and hall-way drama, this is a modern teen novel with emotional veracity and real intelligence. James Lorimer and Co., 2010.