Cover of The Con Code by Shana Silver. A white blonde woman in all black, shot from the mouth down, in front of a gride of letters and numbers.

About the Book

Title: The Con Code
Published: 2020

Cover Story: It Grows On You
Drinking Buddy: Sure
MPAA Rating: PG (cartoonish violence, language)
Talky Talk: Just No
Bonus Factor: Road Trip
Bromance Status: Not One of the Team

Cover Story: It Grows On You

I normally hate the half face teen model, but the more I look at the cover, the more I notice, like the barely visible code, or the way the model blends in with the background. I’m in. Also, when I was uploading this, I accidentally turned the cover upside down and realized, to my shock, that except for a couple of letters, the title still looked the same. I thought I’d discovered a secret code hidden in the cover photo, until I remembered what lateral symmetry was.

The Deal:

Fiona Spangler didn’t have a normal childhood. Instead of playing tea party, her parents taught her how to pick locks. Instead of preschool, they brought her along on burglaries. And instead of finger painting, they taught her to be an art forger. Now a teenager, Fiona and her father are working on a series of heists, stealing well-guarded objects of art in order to replace them with forgeries. Not to sell them. You see, the things they are stealing are secretly already forgeries. And somewhere in those objects are clues that Fiona’s mother left before vanishing years ago. If they can decipher the clues, they might be able to find where she’s hiding.

But Fiona’s father and his partners have been arrested. It’s now up to Fiona to round up her own crew. There’s Tig, who never speaks but can break into any computer system on her laptop. Natalie, the master of disguises, who’s totally crushing on Tig. And Colin, her smarmy rival, who can charm his way into (and out of) any situation.

With the FBI hot on their trail, the teen burglars travel the country, attempting to piece together the last clues of Mrs. Spangler.

Drinking Buddy: Sure

Two pints of beer cheersing

The characters were what carried this book. Fiona and Colin constantly trying to one up the other, with Natalie swooning over Tig. Four teenagers, pulling off a series of heists that would make even a professional pause. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed like a caricature. Fiona’s father was wooden. Colin’s father, an FBI agent, had potential, but was an empty suit. Her classmates were two-dimensional. Her teachers suffered from Saved By the Bell Syndrome: they were all either cruel or stupid (if you throw every high school student who says the F word into detention, then there will be no one left in the halls).

And then there’s Colin. I know the author was trying for the whole ‘two rivals forced to work together while trying to hide a mutual attraction’ vibe. Instead, Colin comes off as a manipulative bastard. Yes, he’s cute. But when he kisses an emotionally vulnerable Fiona in the rain, just to steal a USB drive from her, I stopped rooting for them as a couple. And every time I thought he was going to be contrite and prove that he was not a selfish jerk, he’d betray her again. If the scales were more balanced, with Fiona getting some harmless but humiliating revenge, or if Colin had a deeper backstory than ‘My father never spends time with me’, I might have bought it. Instead, they remind me of an adult couple, where the wife ignores her husband’s drinking/cheating/emotional abuse because he’s charming and she doesn’t want to lose him. No thanks.

MPAA Rating: PG (cartoonish violence, language)

It had potential. It really did. But so much of the book was just ‘We’re going to break into Disney World/ a guitar factory/ an art museum’ and then succeeding. Everything felt rushed and the stakes, no matter how much they built them up, were low. I never once felt the characters were in danger. I never worried that Tig wouldn’t like Natalie. I never cared about finding Fiona’s mother. In fact, everything was wrapped up so quickly, that up until the last fifty pages I assumed this was the first book in a series.

Talky Talk: Just No

Unfortunately, the entire premise of this book was kind of absurd. So, Fiona’s mother secretly went on this crime spree that no one noticed, to leave a bunch of highly confusing clues for her family? The woman was a master thief, I’m sure she could have gotten a message to her husband and daughter through a less risky channel. And why was the FBI chasing the kids the whole time? I mean, they’re setting up road blocks, sending in undercover agents, and plastering their pictures all over the news. And why? Because Colin broke his house arrest over an initial charge of providing fake IDs. Or because the feds suspect they’re about to steal something. Or they think Fiona will lead them to her mother.

Here are people the FBI will arrange a national manhunt for: 1) Drug lords 2) Terrorists 3) Mafia dons 4) Serial killers. They will not, however, waste so many agents and resources on the daughter of a wanted art thief.

And then there’s the absolute ease at which they succeeded at every theft. Natalie, make me look like a specific person. Tig, immediately hack into the FBI radio channel/ the Disney World fire alarms/ the art museum cameras. Colin, go seduce that girl. In fact, Colin’s charm is a literal asset that they use in plans. ‘Here, Colin will charm his way past the guard…’

This is exactly why National Treasure 2 sucked. They made everything look too easy. Good lord, they actually find the written notes of an FBI agent, outlining the bureau’s surveillance plans.

Also, they break into Disney World to steal something from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but the author wasn’t allowed to say ‘Disney World’, so we get a lot of ‘The Florida amusement park with the princess castle and the pirate ride, where people wear character ear hats.’

Bonus Factor: Road Trip

Happy Couple Driving on Country Road in Classic Vintage Sports Car

With the feds breathing down their necks, Fiona and her crew can’t risk public transportation. Instead, they sign on to a teen bus tour, filled with peppy, high achieving kids who are just pleased as punch to meet the quartet. Not only do they have to evade government agents, but now they’re faced with chaperones and and chirpy roommates.

Bromance Status: Not One of the Team

I appreciate your loyalty, but I’m afraid I can’t reciprocate.

Literary Matchmaking

Death Prefers Blondes

For a much better heist book, pick up Caleb Roehrig’s Death Prefers Blondes.

The Lightness of Hands

Jeff Garvin’s The Lightness of Hands wasn’t bad either.

Are You Listening?

If it’s the road trip you’re after, try Tillie Walden’s graphic novel Are You Listening?

FTC full disclosure: I got a free copy from the publisher, but no money or art treasures.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.