Shoplifting is like drinking beer before you’re 21, everyone’s tried it once. So in the spirit of reckoning with the past, we asked our favorite young adult novelists to share the details of the first time they broke the law.
Libba Bray, The Diviners
Though I certainly had a misspent youth, alas, shoplifting was never one of my crimes. In fact, when I was nine, I was shocked—SHOCKED—to witness my friend’s older sister lift some candy from our local Circle K. I confessed this to my mother, who, of course, reported it to the girl’s mother. This prompted shoplifter’s mother to narrow her eyes at MY mother before issuing the cryptic statement, “I worry about your child. She’s PATHOLOGICALLY honest!” To which my mother responded, “Thank God!” Damn. This makes me sound like a real kiss-ass. I promise that I did my share of sketchy things as a teenager. But you didn’t ask about those, and I have since learned not to give it up.
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
I have never shoplifted. I am almost embarrassed to admit this. This is because, 1. I never really had need to shoplift, as I was always adequately supplied in bubble gum, etc., and 2. When I was a little kid, my parents told me that shoplifting amounted to stealing from the people who worked at the store even if it was an outpost of some giant corporation, and I was never been able to shake the feeling that on some level they were right.
A.S. King, Ask the Passengers
When I was about five, I stole two caramel candies from one of those supermarket open-bin, weigh-it-yourself candy displays and I put them in my pocket. We were a no-candy household, so I considered myself a starving child stealing for food more than anything. I mean, I knew that wasn’t the case, but you have to tell yourself something in order to get the guts up to start shoplifting shit at age five, right?
Anyway. I couldn’t wait to eat the stupid candy. As my dad loaded the groceries into the back of the car, I unwrapped the thing inside my pocket and cleverly slipped it into my mouth. And as I chewed, someone noticed. I don’t remember who it was. I’m not sure if my sisters were with us that week. They usually were, but they wouldn’t give me up, I don’t think. I’m guessing my dad just noticed because I was five and looked guilty and was chewing candy. He found the second candy in my pocket and took me back into Pathmark to return the uneaten candy and to apologize to the manager. I’m sure I cried and was dramatic.
Between this lesson and the lesson I learned through a friend who got caught stealing a Pat Benatar eight-track tape and some other stuff from a local department store, I was scared off shoplifting ever again. However, I did become a candy fiend the minute I could afford to buy my own and to this day I steal at least 40% of my children’s’ Halloween and Easter candy.
Justine Larbalestier, Team Human (with Sarah Rees Brennan)
As a YA writer and therefore as a role model to all teenagers I never do anything wrong ever. However, had I ever shoplifted, which obviously as a role model I have never even contemplated, it might have been a truly terrible paperback named Tinsel, which was shiny and gold—I have always loved shiny—and cost more money than twelve-year-old me had and somehow wound up in my school bag and would have been read by me secretly at night so my parents wouldn’t know. Had this happened I would clearly have been punished by how incredibly dull the book was. It would have been an early experience of the all that glitters not being gold rule. I am still enamoured of shiny, however.
Though obviously that never happened because: Role model.
Bennett Madison, The Blonde of the Joke
I have had a fascination with shoplifting ever since I worked at the Gap in high school and learned how easy it was, but I haven’t actually shoplifted very much myself. (Instead, I wrote a book about shoplifting.)
Things I have shoplifted, in order:
1. A pair of women’s sunglasses from Anthropologie that I wore once and then accidentally stepped on.
2. A tiny package of bath bead things from the Gap when I worked there, when my manager was being a dick to me and I wanted revenge and they were the easiest thing to just stuff in my pocket.
3. A paintbrush from the art store when I was buying a bunch of art supplies and didn’t quite have enough money for everything I needed.
4. A block of cheddar cheese.
Kate Milford, The Boneshaker
Frankly, I’ve never shoplifted. I vaguely remember once discovering I’d walked out of my local grocery store with an armful of those tubes of cut-and-bake cookie dough, but I figured it out before I got to my car (or anybody else noticed) and went back in and paid, utterly mortified. But that’s my only experience.
Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
I have never shoplifted! I used to engage in petty crime by jumping turnstiles (until I was caught, as detailed in my first book Teen Angst? Naaah…), but shoplifting was off-limits. My mother taught me that it was habit-forming and that people who did it always got caught. Come to think of it, how did she know that?
Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
My shoplifting career began and ended when I was seven years old. I used to sneak candy bars and packets of SweeTarts (my favorite) into my underpants whenever I was dragged along grocery shopping with my mother. To set the picture somewhat, this was in Jamaica in 1972. The store was called “Shopper’s Fair” and a packet of SweeTarts cost five cents in Jamaican money (I think a quart of milk cost 16 cents, by comparison). I was very good at shoplifting packets of SweeTarts and never got caught. I shared my success, and my technique, with my best friend, who unfortunately DID get caught, and was named and shamed within the grocery store. Although I didn’t witness this experience, I was traumatized enough by my friend’s trauma that I stopped my criminal activities and never looked back.
During the same period, I had an addiction to Hardy Boy novels, which could be purchased in the same grocery store. My mother got this scam going where she’d buy one I hadn’t read, we’d take it home and I’d read it, and then she’d return it to the store the next week saying “She’s read this one” and exchange it for another. I knew this was vaguely cheating, so I think that my mother’s underhandedness probably encouraged my own boldness as a thief. Lesson to be learned from all this: Be very careful what you do, because your kids are watching and learning.
Claire Zulkey, An Off Year
I stole a Power Bar from a 7-11 during a break at drivers’ ed
class. A bunch of “cool” guys were in class with me and were all
going to shoplift so I wanted to join them. I think I just stuck it
in my pocket or bag. I did not get caught but I felt horrible about
it and never did it again.
Related: What Books Make You Cringe To Remember
Nadia Chaudhury used to swipe those packets of extra beads from dresses while out shopping with her parents. Sorry. Photo by rhoadeecha.