The Escape from Home (Beyond the Western Sea Series #1)

The Escape from Home (Beyond the Western Sea Series #1)

4.6 13
by Avi

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Maura O'Connell, 15, and her brother, Patrick, 12, escape Ireland's brutal poverty with only the belongings in their bundles and tickets for ocean passage. Sir Laurence Kirkle, 11, flees a life of privilege to seek justice. When fate brings them ogether, the three join forces in a daring scheme that may lead to freedom and glory...or dire consequences.  See more details below


Maura O'Connell, 15, and her brother, Patrick, 12, escape Ireland's brutal poverty with only the belongings in their bundles and tickets for ocean passage. Sir Laurence Kirkle, 11, flees a life of privilege to seek justice. When fate brings them ogether, the three join forces in a daring scheme that may lead to freedom and glory...or dire consequences.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Devotees of historical novels will quickly become absorbed in this drama set in 19th-century England, about the misadventures of an Irish peasant and the young son of an English lord who cross paths before boarding a ship bound for America. The biting irony present in Avi's contemporary novels (Nothing but the Truth; City of Light, City of Dark) surfaces here in portrayals of the sharp contrasts between the upper and lower classes. Although the plot does tend to meander (the emigrants do not actually set sail until the last few pages), the author provides so many enticing side attractions in the form of unsavory villains and extraordinary twists of fate that readers will stay hooked. Full of tongue-in-cheek contrivances, this voluminous, Dickensian- style novel offers surprises around every corner. Fittingly, the book ends in medias res, so readers must await the September '96 publication of the second, and final, installment, Lord Kirkle's Money, to discover the destinies of Patrick and Laurence, the two unlikely traveling companions. Ages 11-14. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Avi is one of the most popular authors around. That's because he writes an action-packed, cliff-hanging stories that MOVE. The great news for his readers is that this spring he launched a three book series, entitled Beyond the Western Sea beginning with Book One: The Escape from Home. The story starts in 1851, and we follow the lives of three young adults ready to emigrate to America. They include an Irish brother and sister, who are going to join their father. The other major character is a young English lord who is running away from home to escape the cruelty of his brother and the shame of a theft he has committed. All three strong characters find connection and relationship in Liverpool, their port of debarkation. Readers will follow them through a setting that brings alive the period, action that drives the compelling plot, cliff-hangers reminiscent of serials written in the time period of the setting and characters that are downright Dickinsonian.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9A suspense-filled adventure. Among the masses abandoning their Irish homes to escape famine, disease, and poverty in 1851 are 12-year-old Patrick and his older sister, Maura, who are joining their father in America. As they pass through the port city of Liverpool, they join an assortment of England's own unfortunates and malcontents. Among them is 11-year-old Laurence, penniless and hopelessly confused, who regrets having fled his wealthy home in London in a fit of rage. Patrick and Laurence meet only briefly, but long enough to seal their fate. As the dank, dirty back alleys of Liverpool come alive through the struggles of the three children, the scenes shift rapidly, challenging readers to keep track of a tangle of Dickensian characters ranging from the misguided to the malevolent. At its best, this book resembles Avi's much loved The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Orchard, 1990), but is far weaker in character development and focus. The paradox of a fine novel is that it satisfies completely yet leaves readers thirsting for more. The clear intention of this book, however, is to introduce a two-part series. It is an engrossing read, worthy of purchase, but only if you fully intend to go for the yet-to-be-published sequel. Michael Morpurgo's well-done Twist of Gold (Viking, 1993; o.p.) covers strikingly similar territory for an only slightly younger audience.Margaret Cole, Oceanside Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
From an author who's made a career of experimenting with different narrative structures comes this first sprawling tale in The Escape From Home books; it's done as a Victorian serial novel with a huge cast, and a multiplicity of short chapters setting out an episodic plot replete with chance meetings, narrow escapes, and dismaying revelations.

Unable to bear the bullying of his older brother, Albert, Laurence Kirkle, 11, pockets a thousand pounds of his father's cash and runs into the London streets; meanwhile, two of Lord Kirkle's Irish tenants—Patrick, 12, and his older sister, Maura—flee their famine-struck village, intending to join their father in the US. The three quickly fall prey to the hazards of street life as they make their separate ways toward Liverpool, the great embarkation point. The supporting cast, urchins, rowdies, and entrepreneurs with names like Phineas Pickler and Toby Grout will be familiar to fans of Dickens and his literary descendants—and several characters are developed beyond the expected caricatures—but the melodrama is mild, and the ending is hardly the spectacular cliffhanger required of the genre. Many plot threads are left a- dangle; Avi (Poppy, 1995, etc.) promises a sequel but few readers will be chewing their nails waiting for it.

From the Publisher

"Surprises around every corner."--Publishers Weekly
"A suspense-filled adventure.--School Library Journal
"Packed with action."--Booklist

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Beyond the Western Sea Series, #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range:
11 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Saturday, December 7, 1850

Chapter One

A Knock at the Door

Just before dawn -- that moment when time itself seems to stand still, when the whole world teeters on the edge of possibilities -- a man looking like death's own shadow came scurrying down a bluff toward the tiny village of Kilonny in Ireland.

He was dressed in a black frock coat and black trousers. His coat was patched; his trousers fit ill; his boots were badly broken. Only his white neck cloth relieved his funereal appearance, and that was soiled from excessive use and little washing. Tired eyes, set deep in a flat, grizzled face, were mirrors of grief. But then, the man's principal state of mind these days was woe.

Though he knew exactly where he was going, knew too the path he'd trod with weariness so many times, he carried a small lantern to light his way.

Kilonny Village lay upon devastated land. Little grew in the heavy mix of clay and jagged stone that made up the valley's earth thereabouts. The trees were barren of leaves. And with its clutch of crumbling structures, the village was like a prehistoric ruin in a rank, forgotten place.

When the man reached the village, he went directly to one of the first huts, a seven-foot pile of sticks thrust up, mortared with clay, then roofed over with rotten thatch from a collapsed cottage nearby. No proper door barred his way.

Instead, he knocked upon a splintery stab of wood that had been pulled across the entry.

The knocking woke Patrick O'Connell from fitful sleep. Twelve years of age, small and wiry, he owned little more than the ragged clothes he wore and no shoes at all, Coalblack hair framed a pinched face with large eyes that proclaimed his hunger.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" the boy whispered under his breath as he made the sign of the cross and glanced about. There were neither windows nor furniture, only a wooden bowl of cornmeal and a chipped jug a quarter full of soured buttermilk. Their other possessions-clothing, digging tools, a few odd bits and scraps-would barely have filled two bundles.

In a hole scooped from the earthen floor near the hut's center lay a turf fire whose glowing ember-the size of a thumb -- offered more smoke than heat. Patrick's mother, Annie O'Connell, and his sister, Maura, were huddled together in a corner, sharing what warmth they could.

Though Patrick wanted to know who had knocked, he held back. Who could have proper business with them at such an hour? The O'Connells' lives had been miserable for so long that the only visitor he could imagine was new calamity.

The potato famine had come, bringing starving times, no employment, illness, and death. So it was that eleven months ago Patrick's father, Gregory O'Connell -- Da to the children -- grew so desperate he took most of the money the family still had and sailed to America in search of work. Since then there had not been one word from him. In that same period a fever had taken Patrick's younger brother, Timothy. His mortal remains lay in Kilonny's crowded cemetery. Now there was no money left to pay the quarterly rent to Mr. Morgan, the agent for Sir James Kirkle, the English lord who owned all the land around the village.

Perfectly reasonable, then, for Patrick to think the knocking meant Mr. Morgan had come to evict them. If it were so, he'd have constables and soldiers by his side to drive the family away and tumble their hut. Such things happened, and often. It was fear of eviction that caused Patrick and Maura to guard the entryway at night. This night's watch was Patrick's.

He looked around for a weapon. Spying a rock against a wall, he hefted it in the palm of his hand. Maybe -- coming in the dark -- the rock would scare the agent off.

"Mother! Maura!" he whispered across the earthen floor. "'Bestir yourselves! Someone's at the door. It's likely Mr. Morgan."

Maura, instantly alert, started up. She was fifteen, tall and thin, with a strong, high-cheeked, and dirty face from which angry blue eyes blazed beneath a tangled mass of long, thick brown hair. It was a rare day-or night-that saw Maura O'Connell smile.

"Did you say someone's come?" she asked.

"And wanting to get in," Patrick said. A pale yellow glow of lantern light seeped through the splintery board.

Maura touched her mother gently. "Mother," she said, "you must move."

Mrs. O'Connell groaned, sat up slowly, and automatically crossed herself. Though only forty-one, she looked the flinty side of fifty. Her thin hair was streaked with gray. Her eyes were dull and sad, her cheeks haggard, her lips parched and tight. When she coughed -- as she did often -- a spike of pain cut deep within her sunken chest.

"What is it?" she asked half in a whisper, half in a moan.

"Someone's at the door," Patrick said with even greater urgency.

"God keep us from more misfortune," his mother murmured. She began to say her rosary beads.

"Go on, Patrick," Maura commanded. "See who it is."

Clutching his stone, Patrick crept forward and put his eye to a crack in the wood. "I can't make him out at all," he said.

Maura pulled her dark red shawl close around her body and moved next to her brother. At the threshold she paused and tried to steady her nerves.

"Maura," Patrick whispered, "if it is Mr. Morgan, I've got a stone for him." He held up his fist.

"Hush!" his sister cried, struggling with her own dread. "Put aside your foolishness! It'll do us no good. None! Do you understand?"

Patrick shrank down and let the stone roll away. "I'll try," he muttered, convincing no one, least of all himself.

"Mother?" Maura called. "Are you ready then?"

Mrs. O"connell, assuming the worst, closed her eyes. With arms wrapped about herself, she began to rock slowly back and forth, praying softly.

Knowing all too well there was little she could do about Mr. Morgan if it were he, Maura faced the entryway, took a deep breath, and cried, "Who's that at the door?"

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Meet the Author

Avi's work spans nearly every genre and has received nearly every major prize, including the Newbery Medal for CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD and Newbery Honors for NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH and THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE. Avi lives in Denver, Colorado. You can visit him online at

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

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