Lawless Review
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Literary heroes for kids come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Young readers can choose from witches and wizards, princes and princesses, brainiacs, futuristic warriors, and even the occasional normal, everyday kid. But the heroes in author Jeffrey Salane’s new young reader series, Lawless, are different—because they’re all criminal masterminds in the making.

For her entire young life, M Freeman has been kept in the dark about her family and their past. But then she’s given an interview at the mysterious Lawless School for aspiring young criminals, and the truth begins to come out.

M’s late father wasn’t an art historian; he was an art thief. Her mother is, too. And now that she knows the truth, she wants to learn more about both her father’s life and his accidental death. When she enrolls at the school, she discovers that her years of homeschooling have paid off; she’s a natural at everything from breaking and entering to outsmarting a mark. And as she makes new friends and excels in her classes, she tries to dig for more information about her family.

Lawless is certainly an unusual kids’ book. Of course, the story itself isn’t especially unique. The boarding school setting has some undeniable Hogwarts undertones, and M shares plenty of similarities with everybody’s favorite boy wizard. But I can’t say that I’ve ever read a kids’ book in which the main characters were encouraged (and even trained) to break laws. And that unusual premise makes Lawless a pretty tough sell.

The story takes the usual battle between good and evil and turns it on its head. Here, the crooks are the “good guys.” They’re pickpockets and hackers and international art thieves—people who cheat and steal and generally wreak havoc on the normal, law-abiding world. The “bad guys,” meanwhile, are the Fulbrights, a mysterious group whose mission is to stop the Lawless students from accomplishing their tasks. It’s hard to say who the Fulbrights are supposed to be—whether they’re some kind of law enforcement agents or just criminals who are really bad—and readers never really find out much about them, either, aside from the fact that they’re the enemy.

For the most part, Lawless is a thrilling adventure. M and her new friends are forced to tackle one challenge after another—and if they weren’t criminal masterminds, they’d be likable characters, too. But it just keeps coming back to the book’s premise: these characters are in training to break laws for their own selfish gains. And even though the author tries to redeem the characters at the very end of the story, it’s probably not the kind of book that you’d want to encourage your kids to read.

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