I already knew Avi could spin a good yarn before I won a signed copy of City of Orphans in a drawing from the Children’s Literature Network.
Avi tells the reader on the first page that he has a story that uses words like “luck,” “chance,” “coincidence,” “accident,” “quick,” “miracle,” and a lot of words he guesses he doesn’t even know.
Maks, his hero “newsie” (newsboy), anchors this story set in New York City in 1893. Quirky characters populate the mystery of who stole the gold watch. Emma’s family knows it wasn’t her, that she was falsely accused before they put her in prison.
With help from his apparently orphaned friend Willa, whom he found homeless in an alley, and coached by the peculiar Bartleby Donck, Maks becomes the boy detective to clear her name. The hardscrabble setting of immigrant families weaves into the story like another character. The community is beset by the prevalence of tuberculosis before the days of modern medicine. They know it as the “wasting sickness.”
I would have a hard time choosing the best part of this book – the setting, the characters, the plot twists, or Avi’s voice. Avi makes the reader feel clever figuring out where the plot twists are going before the characters in the story see it coming.
As the book nears the end, Avi returns to his words at the beginning. “So there’s the story. Too many coincidences? Or just miracles? You decide.”
I decided. Not too many. Just right. In another coincidence, I read the book on the way to Arizona to celebrate grandson Jack’s birthday. I’d already bought his present, but this was too good not to share. He didn’t object to getting a signed book as a bonus!