Goodreads: The Patron Thief of Bread
Age Category: Middle Grade
Published: May 2022
Eight-year-old Duck was fished by the river as a baby. Now she forms part of the Crowns, a crew of pickpockets who move from town to town. But their leader Gnat has a new plan. They will settle in Odierne and install Duck as a fake apprentice to a baker. From the bakery, she can more easily pass bread and money to the Crowns. But soon Duck starts to care for Griselde, and to wonder where she really belongs. Interspersed periodically with chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle, made to watch and protect.
I will be among the first to admit it. I do not understand the hype surrounding The Patron Thief of Bread. Books about crews of child thieves who earn their living as pickpockets are plentiful enough, as is the idea that growing up often means moving on–to an honest day’s work and relationships that are built on more than usefulness. The Patron Thief of Bread tries to stand out by offering occasional chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle rather than the orphan thief Duck. But these seem out of place and unnecessary. On the whole, The Patron Thief of Bread is a solid book, one I enjoyed–but one that seems not only uninspired but also a bit too long and too reflective for its target audience. I see this book as a potential award winner, one beloved by adults, but I have trouble imagining a child I would recommend it to.
I have read enough children’s books that the concept of a crew of child pickpockets needs a little something more to seem exciting to me. It is this feeling that I imagine must form the basis of including chapters from the perspective of a gargoyle. Duck’s chapters, you see, the one’s following an orphan thief selected to masquerade as a baker’s apprentice so she can more easily steal bigger change, are interrupted periodically by those of the gargoyle. Duck’s chapters focus on the concept of family and what it means to belong–she must decide if her crew are still her family, or if they are only using her as a tool. Or if Griselde the baker could be her family, too. The gargoyle’s chapters focus mainly on his feelings of impotence being attached to an incomplete cathedral that the ravages of time have worn down. Unable to protect–with nothing to protect–he rages at everything and spends his time alternately mocking the other gargoyles or substituting lewd lyrics to the hymns the nuns sing below. What the gargoyle and his feelings of inadequacy have to do with Duck and her feelings about family is not really clear. It just seems like they are there to be interesting, to be unique. “What other book has chapters from the point of view of a gargoyle?” one might say, impressively. In short, the gargoyle chapters seem out of place and add little to the book or its overall themes.
The gargoyle chapters also add length to a book that is arguably already a bit too long, coming in at 448 pages. Plenty of children adore long books, yes, but the pacing of this one is slow and the themes are redundant. Duck spends most of the book reflecting on whether she still belongs in the crew, or if they are just using her to get food, while also acting like she is an outsider who left them and no longer belongs. Like most problems, Duck’s could be solved by talking them out with her master the baker Griselde, who loves Duck like her own child and refuses to see any wrong in her. But, of course, that would make less of a story, so we get hundreds of pages of Duck worrying instead, with the climatic scenes coming in only when about 80% of the story has been told. The pacing feels off–too slow and then too fast, with everything needing to go wrong and then get fixed in the final pages.
In the end, I really see this as the type of book adults in particular would enjoy. It’s just so unique with its gargoyle chapters and so sweet and deep with its look at the definition of family, right? I myself enjoyed the book, though I cannot say I want to rave about it. It is a solid story, one with interesting characters and an interesting premise. I just do not see it doing anything particularly new or thought-provoking. And I really am interested if this is a book tweens would enjoy, or if it the grown-ups who see all the meaning in it.