The Blurb On The Back:
Sam breaks into strangers’ houses every night.
But it’s not about stealing from houses, it’s about stealing THE houses.
He tricks locks and sleeps in stolen beds, because he just wants to find a home
Can two broken boys find their perfect home?
Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for teenager daughter, Moxie.
But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
15-year-old Samuel ‘Sam’ Lou and his 17-year-old brother Avery have a plan: they’re going to earn money, buy a house and fix it up themselves and they’re going to be okay. The money comes from Avery’s job as an apprentice at a local garage and stealing, the brothers working a routine to take wallets from unsuspecting people at the beach. In the meantime Avery’s living with ‘friends’ who Sam knows are just using him while Sam breaks into houses while their owners are aware and engaging in a little light burglary before vacating them.
But the plan goes wrong when Avery’s ‘friends’ encourage him to get drunk and work and he drives a car into the wall. The garage owner is already getting tired of Avery because while he’s great with engines, his autism makes him prone to being overwhelmed and when he’s overwhelmed he breaks down in a series of tics. So Sam decides to put things right by putting the other apprentice out of action with his fists so that the garage owner has no choice but to keep Avery on. As always when Sam lashes out though, he goes too far and Avery’s upset to realise that Sam is using violence on his behalf, while Sam took a beating himself during the attack, which has hurt him more than he’ll admit.
Sam takes refuge in what he thinks is an empty house but is caught out when the family return home. The De Laineys are a chaotic, loving group of seven children led by their builder father and each of the kids thinks that Sam is the friend of one of their siblings. Sam knows he should leave but the more time he spends with the family – and Moxie – the harder it is to make the break. Until Avery’s ‘friend’ Vin shows up, who knows Sam and Avery’s secrets and has a special offer for Sam …
C. G. Drews’s YA contemporary novel is a beautifully written story about homelessness, desperation, violence and the need to belong. I completely believed in Sam as a confused boy desperate not to be like his father but unable to find another way to help Avery and the romance between him and Moxie is sweetly depicted, but I did have some concerns about autism sometimes being portrayed as a burden for Sam to bear.
Drews does a great job of depicting Sam and Avery’s relationship and I believed completely in each character’s sense of loss and desperation. She is particularly good with Avery’s sense of frustration at being the older brother reliant on his younger sibling while simultaneously needing him and the scenes where he reaches out to others because he’s desperate for empathy and acceptance are genuinely heartbreaking. Similarly, Sam’s fear and reliance of the violence within him and the desperation not to be like his violent father are well drawn and I completely believed in the yearning he has to be part of the De Lainey’s world because of the love that he sees there. The flashback scenes where Drews shows the reader Sam and Avery’s own upbringing are a difficult read – notably a scene where Avery is brutalised by his father – and the cold way they are abandoned to their Aunt Karen who isn’t emotionally or financially equipped to deal with either of them are all well observed.
Drews also does well at showing how life isn’t peaches and cream for the De Laineys either. The father is struggling financially and emotionally they are all trying to cope with the loss of their mother (although I didn’t buy into Sam’s assumptions about that) and I liked how the care of the younger siblings falls to Moxie who is not happy about it and calls her father and brothers out on the sexism, even as she reluctantly goes along with it because she knows there is no other choice. I’m not normally a romance fiend, but the romance that develops between Sam and Moxie is sweetly depicted with Moxie smart enough to know that something about Sam isn’t quite right and strong enough not to put up with someone lying to her.
Where the book didn’t work quite so well for me was partly due to antagonist Vin – essentially a Fagin-type figure who is using Avery as part of her robbery gang. Frankly, she didn’t have enough page time to make a huge impression and came across to me more as a mechanical plot device rather than a character in her own right. I was also uncomfortable at some of the depiction of autism in that while I believed in Avery’s tics and mannerisms, Drews does the classic portrayal of autism as also conferring special talents (in this case Avery is a whizz with engines), which isn’t always the case and I think can mislead readers. Similarly, in parts of this book there is very much a sense of Avery being a burden to Sam (even if it is one that Sam feels he should bear) and Avery is shown as being incapable of looking after himself, which made me uncomfortable at times and again, seems misleading.
These points aside though, I thought that this was a strongly written book that was moving and thought provoking and I would definitely check out Drews’s other work on the back of it.
THE BOY WHO STEALS HOUSES was released in the United Kingdom on 4th April 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.