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I was explaining the concept of a Problem Novel to someone, when I suddenly had vivid memories of another one that I read when I was a child. The basic plot of it was that a young woman, probably somewhere in the teenage range, gets caught stealing, probably shoplifting. Due to her age, she doesn't face prison time, but is of course under a lot of distrust from people around her. Somewhere later in the book, she gets a job as a babysitter for at least one young boy - I remember a scene where she's giving him a bath, and he comments about having a penis, and how "whales don't have penises", something which stuck in my head, because, in talking with my parents about the book, I found out I've been mispronouncing that word wrong - and seems to be on the way to getting her life back, when something in the house comes up missing, I think maybe a set of earrings owned by the mother of the kids that she is babysitting, and she is of course suspected due to her history. Eventually, she is vindicated.

I remember the cover having a fairly realistic image of the girl in question, possibly a photograph showing her in the middle of shoplifting, and the title was something about her being a thief, like "I Was a Teenage Thief" . I remember that, at the time, I was excited about the prospect of reading it, because my experiences with Dungeons and Dragons had left me with a favorable impression of thieves. Looking back on it, I wonder if my parents steered me towards the book to get me to understand that stealing was not a good thing, let alone a viable career prospect.

I probably read it somewhere in the early 90s, as a library book checked out in Ashland, KY. In my memories, it was a full-sized hardback book, and I was reading that like the book at the time, but I don't entirely trust my memories, as what I remember of the plot feels a lot shorter than that.

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  • So what career path did you choose?
    – SQB
    Mar 8, 2023 at 19:42
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    Probably not any of these or these?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 8, 2023 at 19:42
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    @SQB: Software. :-D I don't honestly know if it's a more ethical path... Mar 8, 2023 at 19:47
  • @Randal'Thor: Actually... one of those looks very familiar. Mar 9, 2023 at 4:27

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Rand al'Thor provided a Goodreads list of Teenage Kleptomaniacs, and the title and image of one of the books jumped out at me, Angel Baker, Thief by Jeannette Eyerly.

Front cover of Angel Baker, Thief

Fifteen-year-old Angel, released on probation to a foster family after being convicted of shoplifting, is anxious to make a fresh start and to be accepted by her new family and friends.

It's a hardcover book of over 200 pages, the cover uses a photograph, and "Thief" is prominent in the title (and in red, something that I was considering adding, except that it was a very vague memory). The Internet Archive has a copy, and the little boy apparently pretended he was a fish so that he wouldn't be concerned about Angela seeing his penis.

Crom, also, after refusing that first night to let Angela help him with his bath — the reason, he said, was "I don't want you to see my penis" — relented when she told him about her little brother. "When I help give Jonah a bath," she said, "we pretend he's a fish, and then when he is all nice and clean and through swimming, I catch him up with a big towel and say, as I wipe him, 'Who ever saw a fish with curly hair? Who ever saw a fish with arms or a belly button?"

"Or a fish with a penis," squealed Crom as, getting into the spirit of the thing, he began to peel off his clothes.

It was apparently a "scholarship key" that went missing which, as it turns out, was stolen by Crom, although he claimed that his imaginary friend Giggles did the crime.

Mrs. Gardiner, while cleaning out the toy chest in the playroom after the close of school, had found the missing gold scholarship key fastened to a piece of string and draped, watch-chain fashion, around the fat middle of Mr. Hawkins, Crom's one-armed teddy bear. "As neither his father nor I," wrote Mrs. Gardiner, "think it would serve any useful purpose at this late date to punish Crom for lying to us — even after all this time he continues to say Giggles is the culprit — we have insisted his invisible playmate take a nice long trip somewhere and not come back."

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  • As a side note, I cannot help but wonder if the Gardiners were big Robert E. Howard fans, given Crom's name... Mar 11 at 13:50

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