This book languished at the bottom of my to-read list for a long time. I feel bad about how it happened. Now that I've read it, I know that it's imaginative and entertaining and I shouldn't have delayed the experience. The problem is, I keep getting tempted by the shinier, newer books at the top of the list. I treat the bottom of my to-read list the way frat guys treat the drunk girls who are left in the bar at last call—I'll take you for a ride, but only because it's too late at night to find something fresh and pretty.
Once I brought the book back to my place and got in between the covers, I realized I'd totally misjudged her. She may have had a faded-makeup, wilting-updo vibe from being trapped in my to-read list since 2012, but that was my fault, not hers. She turned out to be intelligent and absorbing, with a plot that just wouldn't quit.
Narrator Michael hasn't spoken a word since a family tragedy shattered his life when he was a child. He is sent to live with his well-meaning but clueless uncle Lito and spends some time attending a school for the deaf when it becomes clear that his speech isn't returning. Eventually, he is sent to a regular public high school, where he manages to eke out his existence by staying out of people's way—until his special talent for picking locks leads to an arrest for breaking into the house of a rival school's quarterback.
Almost before he knows it, Michael is drawn into a criminal underworld and trained as a “boxman,” a safecracker. He's also fallen in love with an artist named Amelia, but his new high-stakes job keeps getting in the way of their relationship. We know things haven't all gone according to plan for Michael because he's narrating the book from a prison cell, but we don't know how he ended up there. He tells his story out of order because he can't stand to write about the initiating incident, the event that put his whole life on this trajectory—the day his life fell apart when he was eight years old.
Michael is a fascinating character, emotional but deeply guarded. I love the way he describes cracking safes; for him, intuition and touch are more important than technique. Despite his criminal activities and unsavory associates, his feelings for Amelia are pure and resolute. Because he doesn't speak, people are constantly making false assumptions about him. It's a treat to be inside the head of a narrator who is so inscrutable to the other characters.
Bottom line: Don't be a frat guy. Treat all books with the respect they deserve.