Book Review

Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott


Title: Stealing Heaven
Author: Elizabeth Scott
Publication Info: Harper Teen May 2008
ISBN: 0061122807
Genre: Young Adult

Book CoverI read this book in a marathon of reading in 1 day. Considering how many things I do in a day, that’s saying a lot. The informal grading rubric that I use sometimes involves whether I have to take the book out of my work bag and read it at home, when I’m not on the bus or waiting for the subway, whether I stop doing things to read more, whether I bring the book in the car with me to read at red lights. The number of places I bring a book outside of the seat on the bus or the seat on the train doesn’t necessarily lift the book’s grade, but knowing that I’m happily reading something truly compelling means that I question what it is and what the book is doing so well that hooks me and hooks me bad.

I totally got honked at at TWO green lights (impatient Jersey drivers) today because I wanted to finish this book. I toted it in the car, I read it at my desk, I followed this book around all day because I could not stop wanting to know what happened next. Scott sustains a lot of the emotional and external tension through the book in such a way that it had little ups and little downs, but was always escalating, to the point that I thought I was going to have to read while peeking through my fingers. I knew what was going to happen, sort of, but I hoped it didn’t, even though I knew it probably would, etc.

Dani is a thief. Her mom is a thief. Dani has never had another life except as backup, research assistant, con artist, and thief. Their preferred target is silver, and their modus is to hop from town to town, targeting the biggest houses and the shortest route possible to the silver. They fence it, go shopping, live well, then move on to the next town.

But when Dani’s mom chooses the beach town of Heaven, Dani finds herself longing for things she hasn’t allowed herself to articulate before: she wants to stay. Have real friends. Who use her real name. And who aren’t potential targets for her mom’s next theft. That’s a tall order, because autonomy is one subject in which Dani’s mom hasn’t really given her a great deal of instruction. One of the most descriptive passages of Dani’s narration explains:

For silver I learned to read,write, work numbers. For silver I learned the name of every plantation from Virginia to Florida…. The story of my life can be told in silver: in chocolate mills, serving spoons, and services for twelve. The story of my life has nothing to do with me. The story of my life is things. Things that aren’t mine, that won’t ever be mine.

That one line makes me think of Prufrock.

There’s a good number of romances that glamorize thieves, but if you’ve ever had the violated feeling of being robbed yourself, knowing someone was in your home, helping themselves to your things and invading without your knowledge or permission and stealing what’s precious to you, it’s not too glamorous. And while Dani’s mother has a very concrete and distant way of looking at her potential victims, and at humanity at large, Dani finds herself at an intersection between her growing desire for something different and more in her life, her growing shame and consciousness of what it is that she’s doing, and her growing sense of panic that she’s not suited for or even good enough for anything, or anyone, else. That intersection creates a challenge for the author, and Scott admirably balances Dani’s past crime and her present moral crisis so that the reader can root for her and want her to want to change for her own good, even while acknowledging that Dani is really, really good at what she does.

Dani is the center of the novel, and since it’s YA, the first person narrative is mostly about Dani’s learning to choose her own path and figuring out who she is and wants to be in the period of a few weeks just before she sets her feet in motion down that path. There is a romance, but the person she finds herself falling for, Greg, is as much a catalyst as he is a foil, though he’s a marvelously sweet and considerate guy.

Scott has some great comic skills, particularly in the dialogue. Dani struggles to remember to keep herself, well, to herself and answers Greg with questions nearly every time they speak. After a few meetings between them, their dialogue was so snappy and sharp I wanted him to find her and talk to her, no matter what it meant for the plot. Plot progress? Acquisition of autonomy and self-reliance? Pah! Want sexy dialogue!

One interesting element I just realized: the reader never learns her mother’s name, and all the way to the end of the story her mother never lets go of her life and her dream of shopping for target houses, shopping for opportunities to steal other people’s stuff, then shopping with the money she’s fenced. That points to my biggest frustration with the story, though it is realistic: Dani’s mother doesn’t ever truly recognize the depth of her selfishness and neglect – which is, as I said, totally in line with the behavior pattern of a selfish person. While there are small moments where Dani’s mother does demonstrate that she might be thinking of Dani and her future, most of the time Dani lives her life according to her mother’s wishes because without her mother, no one would want her. The degree to which she doubted her mother’s love made those small moments seem small and brittle in comparison to the true, though brief, overtures of friendship Dani navigates in her first weeks in Heaven. No one, but no one, has ever stood up for her, or made her feel valued for who she was, not what she could steal.

Ultimately, Dani pays the bigger price for her mother’s choices in their lives, and has a good bit of harm to confront when she finally decides that she can be in control of her life instead of her mother. Oddly, her mother is half of the reason Dani ends up in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively, but her mother never fully appreciates what makes Dani happy. She mostly insists on reminding Dani that whatever it is that Dani might do, it won’t make her mother happy.

But because Dani’s decision to own herself and her future comes so close to the end, and the change is pushed by such draining circumstances, I’m left not entirely confident in Dani’s self-ownership. I’m hopeful, and I want her to ride off into the sunset with Greg but I’m not sure that she will. And I wished any one of the people who hurt and neglected Dani had experienced at least one moment of ownership of their own responsibility.

While the ending is hopeful, it’s not a bonafide happily ever after; after being on the outside for so long, Dani’s focus is simple: home and belonging, with belongings that are her own, in her own home. The price that Dani has to pay for that home of belongings is a high one, and it’s a powerful story. Acquiring those things when it means rupturing everything she’s known until then is akin to stealing – stealing her future from her mother, the one who taught her to steal.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Joanna says:

    this sounds really very compelling. Time to find and read!

  2. 2

    This book sounds wonderful. Thanks for the rec, Sarah. And kudos to you for reviewing YA!

  3. 3
    k says:

    Her earlier books are pretty fabulous, as well! And I don’t generally read that much YA.

  4. 4
    Steph says:

    While I haven’t read this one title yet (it’s on its way), I just finished an ARC of Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth and that was wonderful. She’s a rising star in YA – her recent titles are selling quite well and many of my friends can’t stop talking about her. If you’re a fan of YA, I would *definitely* suggest picking up one of her titles.

    Anyhow, it’s so awesome to see the SBs reviewing YA :)

  5. 5
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I read one of her earlier books,


    , and thought it one of the most realistic portrayals of female sexuality I’d ever read (despite the fact that it contained no sex). This newer one is on my to-buy-when-I-have-book-money list.

  6. 6

    Wow, it sounds wonderful and painful at the same time.  It’s amazing to me that some of the most fabulous books I’ve read in my life are YA, and yet I hesitate to go looking for more.

  7. 7
    SusanL says:

    Thanks for the review and the comments from others who have read this author.  I like YA and I’ll be searching for this book and by the author.

  8. 8
    Teddypig says:

    Totally off topic!

    Who is all watching Phelps hoping his suit falls off tonight as he gets out of the pool? Yeah baby!

  9. 9

    Teddypig. ROFL. Either you are really funny or I am really tired.

  10. 10
    amy lane says:

    Excellent—I’ll recommend it for my daughter—and then ‘steal’ it for myself when she’s done!

  11. 11
    SonomaLass says:

    The last book I got for my teenager on an SB recommendation was Wicked Lovely, and all she can talk about is how much better it is than Breaking Dawn.  Score!  I will suggest this to her as well.  Contemporary isn’t always her bag, but she did enjoy the Nick & Nora book (too lazy to look up the exact title, sorry).

    Teddypig, don’t those new swimsuits just tick you off?  No real chance of them slipping off like a good, old fashioned Speedo (although one swimmer did say his broke during a race).  No, I think the upper half of Michael Phelps is all we’re going to get—not like that isn’t a nice view!

  12. 12
    SusanL says:

    Teddypig, I’m hoping Jason Lezak’s does some slipping ;)

  13. 13
    Teddypig says:

    Teddypig, don’t those new swimsuits just tick you off?  No real chance of them slipping off like a good, old fashioned Speedo (although one swimmer did say his broke during a race).  No, I think the upper half of Michael Phelps is all we’re going to get—not like that isn’t a nice view!

    Agreed! I mean, I know the new suits give them record times and all… but Dammit! Half the fun of watching swimming is gone. Those dick slings left nothing to the imagination and came in a rainbow of colors.

  14. 14
    AgTigress says:

    Back to the book, compelling though the image of slipping swimsuits may be.
    How old is the heroine of the Scott book supposed to be?  I couldn’t infer from the review alone whether she is a child or an adolescent, an eleven-year-old or sixteen.

  15. 15
    Jessica says:

    Sarah, thanks for the review. This is OT, but I find myself curious, never having read YA as an A, do you read YA for your own pleasure, or because you want to provide reviews on YA on this website (or both? Or for other reasons?).  What makes a book YA, if adults can and do enjoy and appreciate it as much as youngsters?

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    Hi Jessica: Dani is 18 I believe. She is of majority by the end of the book, that I know.

    I read YA for my own pleasure (which sounds quite saucy – mmhah!) and I have a serious weakness for it. I love me some YA romance. It’s not out of a sense of obligation to the site, like, “Oh, not enough YA this week must read more!” I pretty much read what flirts with my fancy, and that includes YA and a whole mess of other stuff. Emphasis on mess. My TBR pile has its own zip code at this point.

    As for “What makes a book YA,” that’s a bigger question. There are a few YA authors who read here who will probably do a much better job of answering that question than I will. But shrink from challenge?! Pah!

    Usually the protagonists are young (duh) as in under 18, usually a little younger. There are a bunch of different subsets of YA, too, from packaged series like Gossip Girl to individual titles like this one. Usually the YA romance that I really enjoy features not only a romance but also a storyline in which the characters realize something key about themselves or their lives or purposes before they stroll into a happy ending. Stories that explore teen self-realization and the actualization of the ability to decide who you’re going to be and how you’re going to act – defining your own moral compass, in other words – plus the attraction and romance elements make for some very happy Sarah reading. Among my favorites are Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Meg Cabot’s “Lightning Girl” series, which had a great romance running through the series. Jumping flapjacks, did I love that hero. Mmrwor.

  17. 17
    Jessica says:

    Thanks for the helpful answer, Sarah. I think I may have to give YA—Nick and Nora in particular sounds good—a try.

  18. 18
    stacy says:

    I enjoyed this read as well.  I cannot believe that I didn’t realize that Dani’s mom’s real name wasn’t revealed!  Hmm.

  19. 19
    Steph says:

    Meg Cabot’s 1800 (the “Lightning Girl” series you mentioned, Sarah) are probably her best books, IMO. The fifth one left something to be desired, but the first four? I adored them. 

    If anyone’s looking for an “in” to YA lit, I’d recommend going with the classics: John Green, Stephanie Kuehnert (debut in July this year, but her book pretty much rocks), Libba Bray, Megan McCafferty, Laurie Halse Anderson, Christina Meldrum (also debuted this year, but her book also rocks – a little reminiscent of Jodi Picoult for a younger set), Sarah Dessen (particularly This Lullaby and Lock & Key), and…ummm… I can think of a million more. YA is made of awesome :)


  20. 20
    Suze says:

    Those dick slings left nothing to the imagination and came in a rainbow of colors.

    Hee! I was thinking that as I was watching the male synchronized divers.  Those are some tiny bits of material!

    Back to YA books, man I loved me some Rob Wilkins!  My lust for that fictional boy almost made me have an identity crisis.  Why can’t *I* find somebody like him!  In my neighbourhood, and age range, and…

    My most favouritest YA romancey novel is Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate.  Oh, the self-centricity, the angst, the horniness of being a (werewolf) teenager!  The movie bore no resemblance to the book, in case anyone’s wondering.

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    *sigh* Rob Wilkins. Seriously. Utterly lust worthy hero. I am so with you.

  22. 22
    Trisha says:

    Rob. Sigh. He’s also my favorite of all the Meg Cabot love interests.

    And Greg in Stealing Heaven is definitely worth a couple of sighs. (And speaking of swimming, even though the hair color doesn’t match, I was totally picturing Ryan Lochte as Greg as I read this book over the weekend.)

    It’s interesting, because while I could appreciate Scott’s Bloom and Perfect You, this is the first of her books that I’ve really liked, largely for the reasons mentioned in the review. The the way Scott managed to make Dani sympathetic and relatable, the passage that was quoted, and especially the Greg/Dani repartee.

    Spinsterwitch, if you’re looking for wonderful and painful, read Scott’s first two books, which are more painfully realistic than Stealing Heaven.

  23. 23
    Fairings says:

    Perfect! I’ve been looking for a great book to get lost in for a upcoming vacation. This sounds like the one for me!

  24. 24
    Hieyeglasses says:

    I really enjoyed this book!

  25. 25

    That’s really great, thanks for sharing this out :)

  26. 26

    Thanks for this post, my friend will be so exciting to check this. I really appreciate your work over here :)

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