To find out why a twelve-year-old boy finds himself in chains on a convict boat, exiled from his home in England and traveling to the strange new continent of America, one needs to read The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pittsthat I reviewed on this blog on June 2, 2017. However, it is not necessary to know that story to appreciate the difficulties that Oliver experiences in The End of the World and Beyond. A longtime fan of the author Avi who wrote both, I am indebted to Algonquin publishers and Net Galley for advance reading copies for both books. Avi continues in the style and intensity of Charles Dickens – also one of my favorite authors – for this new historical novel.
Trouble does not let up for Oliver from the minute he is shackled to other prisoners in filthy conditions on the voyage nor through his sale to a cruel tobacco farmer who also owns a black slave named Bara. Early on he is beaten by his new master just to prove what is in store for any act of perceived disobedience. Loneliness exceeds even the unbearable conditions of his life until he slowly makes a connection with Bara. A small glimmer of hope that he may find his sister in the new land is enhanced when Bara brings word that a notice has been posted of a girl named “Charity” in a city called Philadelphia who is looking for her brother.
Fleeing the master with Bara toward a community of free black people leads through the dangerous swamp and across streams for this non-swimmer. The book keeps the reader enticed to read just one more chapter with hopes that Oliver’s life has to get better. As always, Avi has done his historical research and noted it in the interesting author’s note at the end.
I recommend reading both books in order, but either is a treasure read alone.