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How to Steal a Car


How to Steal a Car

Kelleigh Monahan is not your typical car thief. In fact, she is anything but a car thief. She shrouds herself in a mix of black and gray, and she would rather hide than talk to someone she doesn’t know. She has her best friend, Jen, in which everything is shared, including their co-boyfriend Will. Kelleigh also has the typical lawyer father and a mother who goes all out on cooking and cleaning --- and, occasionally, drinking. What’s even more atypical of a car thief is that Kelleigh isn’t even old enough to drive. She just received her learner’s permit and is forced to drive around with an adult in the passenger seat. But that one day at the mall will change everything.

As Kelleigh and Jen are sitting outside the shopping center eating ice cream, Kelleigh sees a man drop his keys and walk away without noticing. Kelleigh picks up the keys, thinking that she would return them, but something stops her. She never planned on taking his car, but by mere coincidence she finds out that he lives only a few blocks away. Surely he won’t notice that his boring car, a Toyota or a Honda or something, is missing for a few minutes as she takes it around the block for a quick ride? While everything is returned as it was, Kelleigh walks away with a newfound addiction that she can’t quite shake.

And if you can steal a car once, Kelleigh figures, you can steal a car twice. The second time is less of a joy ride and more of a revenge-motivated debacle. A little more effort is needed to duplicate keys and trick the owner, but, in the end, Kelleigh succeeds in her plan. How and why it ends up at the bottom of the local pond you will have to read to find out.

And if you can steal a car twice, you can certainly steal a car three times. When Jen calls in a panic, Kelleigh doesn’t hesitate to borrow the neighbor’s car (they were conveniently on vacation) and rescue her best friend. The whole police chase on the way home doesn’t help matters, but Kelleigh manages to evade the cops and inform her parents about the declining nature of their neighborhood.

And if you can steal a car three times, why not start stealing cars for money? It’s all been leading up to this: her parents’ failing marriage, her strained friendship with Jen, and the uncertain future between her and Will. Some girls might act out by drinking, sleeping around, or doing drugs, but Kelleigh gets her thrills from stealing cars. Is she going too far? And what will it take to stop her before she hits the point of no return?

Most people think of car thieves as reckless, desperate, or down on their luck. Kelleigh, though, is an extremely relatable teenage girl with the same teenage problems that we all go through at some point, but she chooses to deal with them in her own unique way. The author’s reasoning for why Kelleigh would steal cars not only makes sense, but he makes it seems so easy and practical that it may be a little dangerous for those already teetering on the edge. With HOW TO STEAL A CAR, National Book Award winner Pete Hautman has created another hilarious look at teenagers, and I know that I’m going to double-check where I put my car keys the next time I leave the mall.


Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on October 18, 2011

How to Steal a Car
by Pete Hautman

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545113180
  • ISBN-13: 9780545113182