17-year-old Lee has been a thief since she was young, and in high school began dealing drugs to help save for college, but these decisions are not what land her in trouble. Betrayed by a friend and abandoned by her family, Lee believes she has nothing left to lose when she breaks out of juvie. After wandering the streets, Lee finds her way to an abandoned building called the Crystal Castle, where a mysterious collection of runaways do the bidding of their cult-like leader, the Station Master, and where her troubles truly begin. When Lee steals from the Station Master, she quickly finds herself engulfed in a mystery that involves a secret society, an empty aquarium, urban exploration, chess, designer drugs, and the works of avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp. This book is so engrossing that even the implausible aspects begin to seem like real life as the reader falls further into the conspiracies and twisting plots surrounding the underground art and artists of Philadelphia, and Lee is such a lovably gritty character that you cannot help but root for her.
The title comes from Duchamp’s “readymades,” found objects selected and presented as works of art. Duchamp rejected the work of many of his fellow artists, saying they only make things pleasing to the eye as opposed to making art to engage the mind. His art is intended to raise questions and engage the viewer beyond the concept of beauty. Duchamp’s works along with his obsession with puzzles and chess make him a likely candidate for a secret society to build their conspiracies around.
All in all, The Readymade Thief is a wonderful and wonderfully weird debut novel. I cannot wait to see what Augustus Rose writes next.