Sunday, May 5, 2013

Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott

The story of my life can be told in silver: in chocolate mills, serving spoons, and services for twelve. The story of my life has nothing to do with me. The story of my life is in things. Things that aren't mine, that won't ever be mine. It's all I've ever known.
I wish it wasn't.
Stealing Heaven is one of Elizabeth Scott's earlier novels, having been published in 2008. It's an unusual story about a mother-daughter burglar team told in the voice of the daughter, eighteen year old Danielle. All Dani can ever remember is a life of stealing. She's never had a permanent home, she's never had real friends, and she's never been to school. Danielle and her mother specialize in stealing silverware from the homes of the wealthy. They move from town to town, try to blend in, research the wealthy homes, rob them and then move on. Dani's father went to jail years ago and then never returned after he was released.

Dani's mother decides their next job will be in the small vacation community of Heaven. They find a cheap place to rent and Dani who uses the pseudonym "Sydney", is sent to the beach to learn what she can about the community and particularly the wealthy who own homes in the area. Meanwhile her mother spends time at the local bar picking up men and sorting through tidbits of gossip.

But as she moves around in the little community of Heaven, Dani begins to form real relationships, something her mother has never allowed her to do due to the nature of their lives. At the beach she meets the chatty Allison Donaldson, whose family is wealthy. Allison, who wants to be friends with Danielle,  has a crush on Brad whose family is not wealthy. Dani also meets good looking James who is Allison's brother, and who tries to get Dani's attention. But Danielle doesn't like James, whom she instantly recognizes as being similar to her mother.

The relationship that has the most effect on Danielle however,  is the one she has with a local cop, Greg Tollver. Danielle first meets Greg several times at the supermarket and then later on when he is on duty at a yacht club party. The last thing Danielle should be doing is attracting the interest of the local cop. But Greg is kind, funny, and Danielle finds she can talk to him. She tries her best to push Greg away, not telling him her name, and constantly answering his questions with her own questions. But Greg's persistence finally pays off and Danielle agrees to go to Edge Island with him for a date.

After meeting Allison and James at the beach, Danielle learns that her mother is interested in robbing a house owned by the Donaldsons and soon discovers that this is Allison's home.Her mother begins planning the robbery of the home and sends Danielle to work as a maid. They decide that the next time Danielle goes into the Donaldson house to clean she will steal their 200 piece 1840 silverware set and leave Heaven.

Despite her mother's plans, Danielle experiences tremendous guilt and conflict because doing the Donaldson job means she will be stealing from a girl who has been kind and befriended her and it also means that she will have to leave behind both Allison and especially Greg. Danielle doesn't want to leave Heaven. She wants to have a home and friends. But she also feels that she owes her mother everything since she has always been there for her and cared for her. Danielle must decide where he loyalties lie with her mother or with those who care for her in Heaven?

Stealing Heaven is one of the best young adult novels I have read. The title is reference to several things; first of course the fact that Danielle and her mother are in Heaven to steal and secondly it is a reference to a sculpture of the same name which Danielle sees at a museum near the end of the book.

There are two outstanding features of this novel. The first is that Scott is brilliant at creating realistic, witty dialogue. The dialogue between Greg and Dani is especially well done, often quite funny but sometimes very touching. The author is able to provide her readers with an understanding of the relationship between the two main characters through the use of dialogue - how Greg truly cares for Dani and how Dani is attracted to him but can't comprehend his feelings for her. This is in contrast to her relationship with her mother who uses Danielle and is very controlling and manipulative. Their relationship is defined by what is left unsaid. Danielle wants to tell her mother how she feels about the life they are leading but she can't.

Danielle's mother "Miranda" is a genuinely unlikeable character throughout much of the book. Although she claims she loves her daughter, she has chosen her way of life for Danielle without much thought as to what this will mean for Danielle as an adult. She assumes her daughter will make the same choices as she has. Danielle's mother uses people, including her own daughter, something Danielle is keenly aware of and tries to avoid doing. We get a sense that Danielle doesn't want to be like her mother.
"I remember how much she (Allison) likes Brad, a regular guy, a guy who doesn't even have connections to money. Mom would call Brad -- she wouldn't call him anything. He'd have nothing she could use, and so she'd never notice him."

The second outstanding feature of Stealing Heaven is the conflict the main character feels. Danielle is struggling because she doesn't identify with her mother's life as a petty criminal. When they arrive in Heaven, Danielle knows that she is supposed to maintain her distance and not get close to anyone. But both Allison and Greg are not like other people Danielle has met in her life. Allison doesn't judge people by how much money they have and Greg is the first man who has respected her boundaries and who has shown genuine concern for her. This leads Danielle to the understanding that she wants more from life; she wants to have a home, to have friends and a real job. Unlike her mother, Danielle wants to make connections with people that last. Her mother has lost her ability to trust and form lasting relationships because of what happened between her and Dani's father and also due to the nature of the life she lives. Danielle isn't quite so jaded yet - she knows only what her mother has told her. Consequently, she is able to take the risk to trust when challenged by Greg and as she discovers, she is not let down.

Greg's shortening of Danielle's name to Dani signifies the beginning of the change of her identity from Danielle a thief, to Dani who can be anything and who makes her own life decisions. Greg encourages her to simply stop stealing and to create a new life for herself. It is because of Greg's support that Dani is able to make the decisions she does when her mother becomes ill. She now has the opportunity to actively change her life for the better.

Stealing Heaven is wonderful story of redemption, hope and coming of age. This book was a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults choice.  You can learn about Elizabeth Scott and her other books at

Book Details:
Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott
New York: HarperTeen  2008
307 pp.

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