Middle Grade Monday – Loot by Jude Watson and the Heist Genre
March McQuin has spent his life with his jewel thief father, Alfie. Moving from place to place in preparation for the next big heist, March knows more about lock picking and getaway plans than he does about fractions. In fact, now that he’s twelve, Alfie has included him in the plans. But when the latest heist goes wrong and Alfie falls from the roof of a tall building, March is left alone in the world. Or so he thinks. Soon he learns that he has a sister, Jules (Julia). In fact, not just a sister but a twin sister. They have been separated since the night their parents attempted a heist that went horribly wrong and caused the death of their mother.
Jules and March are found by the authorities and sent to a foster group home in the states. A pair of dishonest adults, Mandy Sue and Pete, run the group home as their own personal cash cow, skimming money from the funds that should be meeting the needs of the residents. Mandy Sue even forces the children to work in the organic garden (for which she received a grant) in order to send pictures to the grant agency, then sells the produce for cash. Everything about this group home is textbook horrible, except for Darius and Izzy. At first, March is sure his roommate Darius (very large for his age and prone to threats) is going to pound him to a pulp. Fortunately, Darius is initially interested in using March for his lock picking skills and quickly warms up to him.
When Jules disappears from the group home and March recognizes a local jewel heist from a list of potential heists his father left him, Darius, Izzy, and March go in search of her. March is furious that she has betrayed him, even though they’ve known each other only a handful of days. When they catch up to her at the next heist on the list, they discover that she’s been coerced into helping their father’s former partner, Oscar. In a twist of events, they are offered an obscene amount of money to steal back the moonstones their parents and Oscar stole when the twins were just two years old in the ill fated heist that led to the death of their mother. Together with Darius and Izzy, the twins make plans to attempt the score of a lifetime.
While there are significant differences between this novel and the Heist Society series by author Ally Carter, they have two very important themes in common. Middle grade students are coming to terms with a number of realities that they were previously too young to understand – one of which being that parents are not perfect. In both Watson and Carter’s worlds, the main characters are forced to confront the mistakes of their parents and the undeniable impact these mistakes have made on their lives. Though they still love their families, their eyes have been opened to the flawed nature of their heroes, and they must choose whether to follow in their footsteps or forge a different path. The choice of whether to attempt to rectify the mistakes of the past, both your parent’s mistakes and the injustices of society (in Watson’s case the group home, in Carter’s case the Nazi looting of art works) is an important theme for middle grade students. The second theme they share is the concept of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. This is a significant issue in the middle grade student’s life. They are just beginning to realize that right and wrong are considerably more complex than they’ve been led to believe. Life and the choices it holds are no longer black and white, but a dizzying array of colors. Through both Watson and Carter’s worlds, readers are allowed the freedom to explore the concept of choosing to do what you’ve learned is wrong (in this case stealing) in order to serve a greater good. Novels with these themes allow middle grade students to explore some of these more disturbing or frightening themes in a safe environment, and help them think through the choices they will need to make and weigh the consequences of their actions.
Filed under: Middle Grade Monday
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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