Review: Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li (Spoiler-Free)
~ Thank you to NetGalley and Tiny Reparations Books for providing me with an early copy in exchange for an honest review! RELEASE DATE: April 5 ~
I am so, so sad that I didn't end up liking this book. That being said, DNFing was a really tough decision. I think if I powered through I could have rated this anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 stars, but I'm trying to be more selective with my reading and since I was never inclined to keep picking this up, even by the halfway point, I think it's better for me to DNF.
This was by far one of my most anticipated releases of 2022—the premise sounded PHENOMENAL—but ultimately, it didn't deliver in the way it was described.
I wouldn't call this a heist novel. Yes, there are a few robberies, but nothing at all reminiscent of Ocean's Eleven. No grand plans and death-defying stunts. Just some broken glass and running away.
What this book really is is a tale of five college kids dealing with Chinese American diaspora. I found many of these conversations to be very interesting, and I could tell that people in real life who live that experience will find a lot of relatability and value in them. But, at the same time, the writing of this novel caused some of these conversations to feel less effective.
The first reason for this is that the characters felt a little flat. They almost weren't, like I felt like I understood inklings of them, but it never came together fully.
And now the biggest reason I ended up DNFing: the prose of this book is irritatingly repetitive. I swear to you, nearly every other sentence is "He was all [adjective] [noun] and [adjective] [noun], eyes gazing up at the sky, at the [describes sun and light and water and a city], at the world brimming with possibility."
At the beginning I thought I was being picky, but over the course of the book I kept getting ripped out of the story by reading the same descriptions and scenes and conversations multiple times without them going anywhere new.
I think this had some of the same problems as Christopher Nolan's Tenet: people talking about random things in nondescript locations like airports, and then having a random action sequence, repeat. Except in this book, the action sequences weren't actually exciting.
Looking back at what I've written here, I feel like it sounds pretty harsh. I do want to say I really think this author has potential—even though the writing was incredibly repetitive, that is the editor's fault, not hers. The descriptions at the heart of the redundant structure were quite beautiful though, and I am curious to see what else she goes on to write.
I think this could be an interesting Netflix series, as I know it was already optioned, but I think the structure would have to be mended a bit. I'm intrigued to see where it goes.