How to Steal a Car. New York: Scholastic Press.
30-Second Summary: It's the summer before 10th grade, Kelleigh has gotten her driver's permit, but neither of her parents are prone to taking her out to practice. Her father, a criminal defense attorney is trying to prevent a serial rapist from going to prison and Kelleigh is starting to see the imperfections of her parents. She and her best friend Jen are bored. They're bored at the mall. They're bored when Kelleigh sees a man drop the keys to his car. They're less bored when they steal his car later and take it for a ride.
I liked the voice of Kelleigh in the story. Her first-person narration includes a lot of run-on sentences and the occasional bit of humor.
Much of her story is concerned with issues of identity. During the story, her grandmother dies and it's only after the woman's death that Kelleigh begins to learn that her grandmother was once much more than a whiney and critical old lady. Seeing her grandmother in a new light, leads Kelleigh to begin to see her parents in new lights as well. And she won't necessarily like what she sees.
How to Steal a Car is a fast-read. This helps make it a good recommendation for reluctant readers. Especially since you can give students the hook that the story is about a fifteen-year-old car thief.
*Slight Spoiler* I could see some teachers and parents having problems with the way the novel ends. Arguably, Kelleigh never faces consequences for her actions. I would be interested, in your opinions, few but dear readers, do you feel that there need to be clear consequences for Kelleigh's choices or do you favor a more ambiguous approach?
On a deeper level throughout the text, Hautman seems to have the goal of deconstructing a few stereotypes--mainly those of male homosexuality and of the type of person who would steal a car. The fact that Kelleigh isn't what the reader would expect a car thief to be like and her reasons for committing her crimes can be central to discussions about the book. A teacher could begin by having students journal about how they "act out" when they are upset or write about some of the bad decisions they have made. Since Kelleigh has trouble discussing things that upset her, a teacher can take that as a jumping off point to encourage students to discuss the things that upset them and constructive ways to deal with those emotions.
Since Moby Dick is referenced several times throughout How to Steal A Car, a teacher could try to create interest in having students read the thick classic or could share segments of the text with them. My favorite mention of the classic in How to Steal a Car considers the possible metaphors a reader can draw from the novel:
"Metaphors in famous old books are always about politics," my dad said. "Or sex. I'm sure it will all make sense by the time they get to the harpooning" (p. 31).
Hahaha! If that won't get a teen reading (or at least giving a movie version a glance) I don't know what will.
Also, the ending of How to Steal a Car leaves some opening for what Kelleigh will do in the future. A teacher could take advantage of this and have students write "the next chapter" of her story. Or since Kelleigh has to write a "How to..." essay, a teacher can give the same assignment to his or her students, encouraging to think of something unusual for their topic (but *ahem* not as illegal as Kelleigh's choice).
Quotes of Note:
"The way this whole thing got started was completely coincidental and not like I planned it or anything" (p. 1).
"How to Steal a Car
When nobody is looking you sneak up to the car and get in and start it. Then drive away. That's pretty much all there is to it" (p. 12).
"What are you doing?"
"Going for a ride," I said.
"Are you crazy?"
"Maybe. Get in."
I didn't think she was going to do it, but then she opened the passenger door and hopped inside. Her cheeks were flushed. I knew her heart had to be banging like crazy too.
"Go!" she said. "Go! Go!"
We went" (pp. 12-13).
"I need you to help me steal his Hummer."
See what I mean? You steal one car and all of a sudden all your friends decide that's what you are.
"Look," I said. "just because I stole one car--and I didn't really steal it; it's more like I borrowed it--that doesn't mean I'm your designated car thief. I got the key for you. Steal it yourself."
"I don't know how to drive," he said.
"I don't see how that's my fault. You're the one who didn't take the test" (p. 29).
Tasty Rating: !!!