I fell in love with Avi’s writings a looonnnggg time ago. Enough years ago that a kid could have grown into a smart-mouthed teenager and graduated from college (sigh). Of course, it was the magnificent The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle that gripped me. I attribute my strange love for sailing ships (and yes, I do know a main from a mizzen) to beginning with this novel though it continued to grow to obsession thanks to Patrick O’Brian.
But I also grew into a reading teacher and a bit of disillusionment sunk in. Crispin: The Cross of Lead was, frankly, disappointing. The plot banal, characterization flat. A character’s continual open mouth confusion is only intriguing for a few pages. And it won a Newberry!
I picked out City of Orphans at the library, attracted by the title, before I realized who wrote it.
The characters Maks and Willa are not looking for an adventure but simply enough to eat and keep a crummy roof over their family’s head. However, a mystery is thrust upon them involving gangs, theft, the newly opened Waldorf hotel and a wrongly accused sister who must be vindicated to the conclusion.
Beyond the main plot, which adults may find a tad simple but will grip younger readers, you see a family barely subsisting on meager earning that invites a lonely street dweller in because she needs them. Though they are poor, they make room. Really puts things in perspective when you’re tempted to complain about things today.
And Avi is finding a stronger voice these days. He effectively appropriates the syntax and grammar of a New York immigrant family and tonight I have a difficult time not saying, “yous,” because I can still hear Maks’s voice in my head. The strong use of voice makes this an even easier read to see as a realistic place.
Nonetheless, I may have to amend all my positive comments if Avi decides to turn this into a series. City of Orphans tells a complete story and further attempts to use the same characters would cheapen its impact.
City of Orphans does not gloss over the absolute wretchedness that filled nineteenth century New York City, but it handles some very weighty issues appropriately for even a 4th or 5th grader. In the end, hope is passed to the next generation and every reader needs that once in a while.
Disclaimer: My opinion is my own. I picked this up at my local library and you can too;)