Avi lifts a few facts from Charles Dickens's biography to spin this action-packed tale of secret identities, double-dealing and betrayal, set in mid-19th-century London. John Huffam (the middle names of Charles J.H. Dickens) is 14, reluctantly attending Muldspoon's Militantly Motivated Academy, when his father (like Dickens') is sent to debtor's prison. His mother is a layabout who does nothing but complain of her husband's fecklessness, and his sister's sole concern is how this family crisis impacts her marital prospects. It's left to John to unravel a mystery involving a military invention that his father, a naval clerk, has information about and a web of foreign spies willing to pay for specifics. John is a bit too good to be true: although he's horrified to uncover his father's various deceits, he refuses to listen to his estranged, rich great-great-Aunt Euphemia bad-mouth the man ("Your shame speaks well of you," she says, misunderstanding him). Though idealized, John is also thoroughly empathetic, a child with hefty concerns thrust upon him, unsure of who he can trust. At least one character's motivation remains murky at the end, but the twisty plot keeps the pages turning and the rich period detail-as well as debut illustrator's Raude's delicate pen and ink illustrations scattered throughout-places readers right in Victorian England at a time when the serialization of David Copperfield had London abuzz. Ages 11-14. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Traitors' Gateby Avi, Karina Raude
It’s 1849, the year John Huffman’s father is sentenced to London’s Whitecross Street Prison. He’s been put away for gambling debt—leaving fourteen-year-old John and his family out on the street. But it seems gambling is the least of their problems: Father Huffman is accused of treason. Surrounded by a cast of sinister and… See more details below
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It’s 1849, the year John Huffman’s father is sentenced to London’s Whitecross Street Prison. He’s been put away for gambling debt—leaving fourteen-year-old John and his family out on the street. But it seems gambling is the least of their problems: Father Huffman is accused of treason. Surrounded by a cast of sinister and suspicious characters, John’s not sure what to believe…or whom.
Readers beware! You are about to enter the seedy morass that is London, England, 1849. Your guide and companion is one John Huffam, a decent chap whose father is about to be sent to debtors' prison. When John and his family are evicted from their home and relocated to a sponging house, fourteen-year-old John learns firsthand how cruel the world can be. His father, Wesley John Lewis Huffam, makes matters more confusing by imploring John to help the family out of this mess--without telling him the truth. The elder Huffam fancies himself a gentleman, when in fact he is a conniving con artist. This trouble has arisen because a certain Mr. O'Doul has sworn out a writ that Mr. Huffam owes him 300 pounds. Well, Huffam swears to his gullible son that he owes no one money and that he does not know anyone by the name of O'Doul. John must sort things out for himself. Along the way, he meets Sary the sneak, a miserly great aunt he never knew existed, enemies of his father, and enemies of the state. John does sort things out in the end; readers will cheer for him along the way. This engaging mystery is full of intrigue. The characters are well defined and the plot is fast-moving. It is an excellent piece of historical fiction. An author's note at the end of the book explains the tales connection to Charles Dickens and the London he inhabited. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D.
Gr 5-9 - Avi returns to the 19th century in this novel of traitors, spies, family, and even love. John Huffam's father works as a clerk in the Naval Ordinance Office in London, and he is suspected of trying to sell a secret about a new weapon to pay his gambling debts. When he is arrested as a debtor, 14-year-old John, the sensible member of his family, must seek financial help from a distant relative, leave school for employment, and unravel the mystery surrounding his father and try to find out why so many people are spying on the Huffams. The novel perfectly captures John's passage from naive boy to disillusioned young man, as his world crumbles when he sees his father more clearly. He develops an unlikely friend, partner, and even romance with the slippery orphan, Sary the Sneak, whose motives sometimes seem as suspect as the many other characters involved. This is a Victorian tale charmingly told in Victorian fashion. Avi's love of the period is evident in how vividly, and without romanticizing, he brings London, teeming with eccentric characters, smells, and sounds, to life. Indeed, the city becomes a central character. With plenty of period detail, this action-packed narrative of twists, turns, and treachery is another winner from a master craftsman.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, MECopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Read an Excerpt
The Traitors' Gate
Atheneum/Richard Jackson BooksCopyright © 2007 Avi
All right reserved.
"But -- "
"I'm warning you, don't speak! Yer life may depend upon it!"
Midnight on the River Thames: A rowboat in which two men sit. Water stinking of dead fish, sewage, and brackish sea. Fog so clotted with coal dust that the men, though a few feet apart, cannot see each other, no more than they can see the stars in heaven or the gas lamps of London less than a quarter of a mile away.
A paddle wheeler passes by. The churning water causes the rowboat to dip and bob. The first speaker rests on his oars. But once the wheeler is gone, he leans over his oars and whispers, "River police."
"How do you know?"
"It's my job to know, ain't it?" His voice is low and husky.
"Do they know we're here?"
"How could they?"
"Them Metropolitan Police 'ave detectives now."
"A dumb lot they are, I suppose."
"Think so? Then 'ere's some advice: Keep away from Chief Inspector Ratchet. You never know when 'e'll show up. All right, then, 'ow are things back where you come from?"
"Couldn't be worse."
"And you're 'ere to even things up, right?"
"We're going to defend ourselves, that's all."
"So you called on me for 'elp, did you?"
"'Ow you get my name?"
"A girl said you'd help me."
"Then she done 'er job fine. Now listen 'ard. I'm about to provide that 'elp you want.Then I'll get you back on shore quick as winks."
"Why did you bring me out here?"
"You paid me for information. And you're brand-new 'ere, ain't you? People won't know you. But me, I've been round this city some. So let me tell you, London 'as more eyes and ears than any city. If them Peelers see you with me, it's over. Lot safer out 'ere on the river."
"What about that police boat?"
"Just 'ope it's a coincidence."
"All right. Go on. I'm listening. What's your information?"
"It's this: There's this clerk, Wesley John Louis 'Uffam."
"If you like."
"Why, I know about him!"
"Do you? Who told you?"
"That's my business. Go on."
"If you know 'im, I guess you also know 'e works in the Naval Ordinance Office. 'E's seen the wery plans you want. And 'e's more than seen 'em. 'E's copied 'em."
"Who do you think? The Royal Navy. 'Ere's the point: There's reason to think you can get the information from 'im."
"Is he willing?"
"That's the word. The man's either a fool or too clever by 'alf. But 'e's surely got what you're looking for -- in 'is 'ead. The best military invention in a 'undred years. Changes everything. Better yet, 'e's let word slide that 'e's willing to sell it to the 'ighest bidder. Why? Cause 'e needs money. Needs it bad. All right, then: Apply the right squeeze and you should 'ave no trouble getting what you want out of 'im. 'E's an easy mark."
"How much time do I have?"
"What's it now, August? I'd say you got till November."
"I have someone close to the man."
"You have your business, I have mine."
"You talk like a real spy."
"If you're asking if I'm willing to take risks? Well, I am."
"A real gambler, ain't you?"
"A man has to survive someway, don't he?"
"Fine, but from this point on," says the rower, "you're on yer own. Understand? I don't want to see yer face, and I don't want you to see mine."
"Don't worry. The bloody fog is so thick, I can't see anything."
"Just this: From the way this 'ere 'Uffam put out 'is word, I'll bet there's others trying to get what you want. You're not likely to be the only one in the game."
"The usual mob. The French. The Russians, per'aps. Maybe the Prussians, Turks, or Spanish. Could be Americans for that matter. Take yer pick."
"No idea which?"
"It could be all. Or some. Or none. Best be on yer guard. Now I'll take you back to the riverbank. No more talk."
"One more question."
"What's your interest?"
The rower leans forward and, guided by the voice, manages to tap on the other man's chest as if to punch a mark on it. "I can 'ave my own business too, can't I?"
"Suit yourself," says the passenger, pushing the hand away with a walking stick.
The rower leans back and begins to propel the rowboat with powerful strokes. All is quiet save for the splash of oars.
"Fog lifting," he says, shifting his head so that his oilskin cloak covers him up to the eyes.
"Where are we?"
The rower peers through the murk. "There's the Tower of London. You can just make out Traitors' Gate."
"I'd rather not land there," mutters the other.
"Fitting...in its way."
"If that's a joke, I don't like it. Just get me on shore."
The little boat scrapes the riverbank where a narrow city street -- Cousin Lane -- runs down to the water.
The passenger clambers out.
"Mind the muck!"
"I assure you," the man calls back as he vanishes into the fog, "luck will have nothing to do with it."
"Maybe," murmurs the oarsman as he pushes back into the foggy river, "just maybe I should 'ave taken 'im straight to Traitors' Gate. Might 'ave saved time. Well, I guess I'll find out soon enough."
He rows right to Old Swan's Pier, where the police paddle wheeler is waiting for him. "All right, then," he announces as he climbs aboard. "Our pretty little fishing expedition 'as commenced. By November we'll see what our net brings in."
Among those who hear him is a girl. She puts a dirty hand over her mouth and does a little jig of delight to keep from laughing out loud.
Excerpted from The Traitors' Gate by Avi Copyright © 2007 by Avi. Excerpted by permission.
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