Rave Reviews Log: Historical Fiction

January 09, 2012

City of Orphans

By Avi
Era: 1893 New York City
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Thirteen year old Maks Geless lives in a tiny tenement apartment with his family of 2 sisters and 3 brothers, his parents (originally from the Denmark) and Monsieur Zulot to whom they rent some space in the three room place on the lower East Side of Manhattan.  His mother takes in laundry, his father and one sister work in the shoe factory and his other sister works at the new, fancy Waldorf Hotel.  But Maks is a newsie, one of dozens of boys who sell papers for the local newspaper companies.  The newsies have been dodging the Plug Ugly gang, who regularly beat them up for the pennies they earn, and it is while Maks is trying to get away from the gang that he meets Willa.  Willa manages to attack the gang out of the blue with her stick and wards them off.  When Maks finds out Willa is living in the streets alone after the death of her parents, he brings her home with him.  Then the unthinkable happens--his sister Emma is accused of stealing a guest's watch at the hotel. The evidence is circumstantial but she's been thrown in prison and has a trial fast approaching.  With immigrant parents and no money to pay a lawyer, what will the family do?  Maks and Willa find help in an unlikely source--a lawyer and investigator who promises to help by teaching Maks how to become a detective.  Can Maks, with Willa's help,  find the evidence he needs while avoiding the Plug Uglies?  It's a mystery, it's historical, it's got action and readers will be turning the pages fast to find out what happens.  It might get tied up a tad too neatly at the end, but no one will mind.

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