Loot: How to Steal a Fortune

Jude Watson

Scholastic Press

Release date 6/24/14

Loot is about a lot of things: jewel thieves, acrobats, cursed moonstones. But above all else, this is a story about the value of family. The entire plot hinges on the question of whether love and trust is more important than money and fame, and it sides heavily with the former.

March and his father Alfie live outside the confines of polite society. Rather than settling in for the usual suburban ennui and mind-numbing school system, March gets to travel the world, meet fascinating people, and learn from life experiences rather than textbooks. He has passports from several countries, multiple identities, and several hideaways. Alfie’s career is what makes this lifestyle possible for his son. He is a world renowned cat burglar.

The book opens with the two pulling off a heist. March is waiting outside the building where the night’s crime is to take place when suddenly Alfie falls from the rooftop. March’s life falls apart as he watches his father die while police sirens approach. Immediately, Alfie’s words of wisdom kick in: “You see a uniform, you scram.” March then flees the scene before anyone can spot him, returns to their Amsterdam apartment to gather his belongings, and discovers several mysterious objects in Alfie’s backpack including a copy of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, a list of mysterious phrases, and a business card for a performance troupe.

March is soon apprehended by the authorities and is forcibly returned to the United States to go into a group foster home, but not before receiving one more shock when he is introduced to Jules, the twin sister he never knew he had. The two start off as enemies, each of them bitterly convinced that the other lived under better conditions. But, the small connection that they share grows as they try to puzzle out clues their father left behind for them.

Loot also highlights the failings of government programsthe kids are manipulated and abused in their foster home, juvenile hall is hung over their heads like a dangling knife to make them follow arbitrary rules, school systems loom as dull authoritarian institutions, and the police are drones in service to the rich. To sum it up, any situation where they are under the control of adults makes them vulnerable to exploitation and bullying. When the twins first meet their friend Darius he tells it like it is: “Let me give you a tipgrown-up’s lie.”

A main message is that the best survival strategy in a brutal world is to seek wisdom and support from the people you love. By combining their talents the kids are able to succeed, while the grown-ups that act out of selfish interests are all failures, endorsing the idea that fame and fortune are more likely to create monsters than heroes. Almost every word out of an adults mouth in this story is steeped in pettiness or self-interest. The only grown-up’s words that could be trusted were from a man that loved them: their father. Alfie’s advice echoes through March’s mind at every twist and turn. His words never lead them astray because they came from the heart.

Watson does a splendid job depicting boys and girls as equally powerful, smart, and adventurous. March is clever and quick; Jules is agile and cunning; Darius is witty and strong; and Izzy is brave and crafty. Each member of the team is valued, and this is what makes them into a family.

Loot’s style is fast-paced, leaving no room for meandering slow periods where the characters sit around moping. It maintains a consistent sense of urgency and never goes stale. Plus, it includes a few cat burglary pointers. For example, if you need to make a quick escape out of a window, you can rip the curtains in half to double the length and lessen the height of your fall. It even describes some acrobatic hand clasps, which couldn’t hurt to have in the back of your mind.

Ultimately, Loot is about the intrinsic bond between blood relations, the fact that we really can choose the people we call “family,” and that while money doesn’t buy happiness, it does buy your way out of society’s soul-crushing machinery.