With dry wit and a strong Dickensian flavor, this first installment in Avi’s Oliver Cromwell Pitts saga has an 18th-century British boy finding misfortune everywhere he turns. The adventure begins with a flood shaking 12-year-old Oliver awake in his home in Melcombe Regis, “a tenth of a mile from the sea.” Wading through the waterlogged rooms of his three-story house, Oliver discovers that his father is missing. The only clue to Mr. Pitts’s whereabouts is a drenched and almost illegible note that indicates he has rushed off to London to save Oliver’s sister from a disastrous situation. Left behind with no money and an evil man threatening to send him to the poorhouse, Oliver knows his prospects are dim. In the days that follow, they grow even dimmer as he endures a string of captures, risky escapes, and dangerous run-ins with strangers and family members. Every cliffhanger-ending chapter will leave readers on the edge of their seats, wondering how Oliver will manage to survive his latest dilemma. Brimming with fast-paced action, evocative settings, and villains, this book reveals yet another side of Avi’s talent. Ages 8–12. (May)
From the Publisher
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2017 "An ingeniously plotted Dickensian story filled with suspense, surprises, and ultimately satisfaction. It reminds us, who may have forgotten, why reading is such high entertainment and pleasure."
--Booklist, starred review "Riveting . . . This first in a new series will capture the hearts and minds of readers and history buffs alike . . . Avi's examination of the plight of the desperately poor is worthy of Dickens. Impossible to put down."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review "Avi's ability to write compelling historical fiction is evident here, and readers will want to stay tuned for the next installment."
--School Library Journal "With dry wit and a strong Dickensian flavor, this first installment in Avi's Oliver Cromwell Pitts saga has an 18th-century British boy finding misfortune everywhere he turns . . . Every cliffhanger-ending chapter will leave readers on the edge of their seats, wondering how Oliver will manage to survive his latest dilemma. Brimming with fast-paced action, evocative settings, and villains, this book reveals yet another side of Avi's talent."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review "This action-packed Oliver Twist-like tale is carefully orchestrated, with short chapters, cliff hangers, lush descriptions, and historical details neatly woven in throughout . . . An entertaining, old-fashioned, page-turning adventure."
--The Horn Book "Colorful rogues, highwaymen and rotten magistrates populate the Dickensian plot, punctuated with clever cliff-hangers, endless close calls and bits of wisdom. Here a Newbery Medalist again delivers a page-turner, steeped in provocative moral questions."
--San Francisco Chronicle "There's danger at every turn and cliffhangers galore in this un-put-downable Dickens story--a marvelous read."
--San Antonio Express-News "Entertaining . . . Engaging."
--Buffalo News "Full of life and Dickensian details, this is historical fiction at its most compelling."
--Providence Journal "Master-writer Avi has once again crafted a seamless novel of intrigue, suspense, and adventure that will have older kids ripping through ever page of this fast-paced, outstanding novel."
--The Port Huron Times Herald "The titular 12-year-old narrator of Newbury Medalist Avi's book The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts may be small for his age (which lands him in trouble on more than one occasion), but the plucky lad is no stranger to out-sized exploits. The story, set in 1724 England, is a rip-roaring adventure tale with thieves, kidnappings and some truly awful bad guys -- and wonderful chapter titles like, "In Which I Introduce Myself after Which I Immediately Plunge into a Desperate Situation." Avi, one of the great writers for young people working today, blends Pitts' fictional story with historical figures of the age, throwing in plenty of juicy details about England's terrible social history along the way. Young readers will be introduced to injustices of the past while still moving quickly through the pages, thanks, in part, to Avi's short, cliff-hanger chapters."
--The Daily American
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—An episodic plot, London in the early 1700s, and a boy named Oliver who falls in with thieves are all found in Avi's latest work. Oliver's father never recovered from the death of his wife, so he sinks deeper into drinking and gambling, neglecting Oliver and Oliver's older sister, Charity. With cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter and foreshadowing chapter titles, Avi maintains a brisk pace throughout. Themes of greed, survival, and loyalty are consistently articulated as well. Through the first-person narrative, readers experience the weight of the world pressing on Oliver, and Avi successfully uses this perspective to place readers in the 18th-century environment. The descriptions of place and time generally work well; however, there are a few moments that feel a bit like history lessons. In an afterword, Avi details what events and people in the tale are true and mentions a forthcoming adventure involving Oliver and Charity. VERDICT Avi's ability to write compelling historical fiction is evident here, and readers will want to stay tuned for the next installment.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
A 12-year-old boy is left to fend for himself in 18th-century England following a terrible storm and the disappearance of his father. Oliver turns to his neighbors for help only to discover that his father's anti-monarchy leanings have earned him a number of enemies. Oliver is at the mercy of these men, who decide to take out their dislike for the father on the son. They deliver Oliver to the local children's poorhouse, where he is forced to do menial work and must submit to abusive punishment. He escapes, determined to make his way to London to find his sister and perhaps his father. But a series of mishaps finds him penniless and at the mercy of a band of highwaymen. Things only get more complicated when he finally arrives in London. Narrator Oliver's witty and honest voice makes this tale of misfortune bearable as well as riveting. From the abject poverty of London streets to the cruel treatment of children to the lengths to which some are forced to go to survive, this first in a new series will capture the hearts and minds of readers and history buffs alike. Unsurprisingly, the cast is a white one, but Avi's examination of the plight of the desperately poor is worthy of Dickens. Impossible to put down. (Historical fiction. 9-12)