Reviews for City of Orphans

Booklist Reviews 2011 August #1
"*Starred Review* Dickensian street action comes to New York's Lower East Side in this gripping story, set in 1893, about newsboy Maks, 13, who feels "hungry twenty-five hours a day." After rescuing a filthy, homeless girl, Willa, Maks takes her to the crowded tenement he shares with his struggling Danish immigrant family. Pursued by Bruno, the leader of the Plug Ugly street gang, Maks is desperate to save his sister, Emma, who was imprisoned after being falsely accused of stealing a watch from the Waldorf Hotel, where she worked as a cleaner. Just as compelling as the fast-moving plot's twists and turns is the story's social realism, brought home by the contrasts between the overcrowded, unsanitary slums ("No water, gas, electricity") and the luxurious Waldorf. Then there are the unspeakable conditions in prison, where, even as a prisoner, Emma must pay for food. Avi writes in an immediate, third-person, present-tense voice, mostly from Maks' colloquial viewpoint ("He's full of heartache, but no one is seeing it"), with occasional switches to Willa and to the young gangster leader. Threading together the drama are tense mysteries: Is Willa really an orphan? Who stole the watch? Pair this riveting historical novel with Linda Granfield's 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life (2001), a nonfiction account of Lower East Side tenements." Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
In 1893 New York City, thirteen-year-old Maks hawks newspapers for eight cents a day. A street gang is roughing up the newsies; Maks's sister has been arrested for theft; and his father is about to lose his job. Avi's fast-paced, muscular prose, along with his Dickensian cast of characters and a mystery of comfortable complexity, make this a gratifying adventure. Copyright 2012 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #5
Times are hard in 1893 New York City. The Lower East Side is like "the cheapest boardinghouse in Babel" -- crowded tenements and sidewalks packed with curb-stalls, handcarts, and peddlers selling their wares in dozens of languages. Thirteen-year-old Maks Geless hawks newspapers for The World for eight cents a day, but things are not right in his world. The Plug Ugly Gang has been roughing up the newsies; Maks's sister Agnes seems to have the "wasting disease," or tuberculosis; sister Emma has been arrested for theft and jailed in The Tombs; and his father is about to lose his job at the shoe factory. Author Avi is at home in the nineteenth century (The Traitors' Gate, rev. 9/07) and creates a Dickensian cast of characters, including dying detective Bartleby Donck, who helps Maks as his "farewell gift to this doomed city"; Mr. Packwood, the house detective at the glamorous Waldorf Hotel; Willa, an orphan girl who meets Maks when sh rescues him from the Plug Uglies; and the mysterious Mr. Brunswick. But this is not Victorian England: the prose is as fast paced, muscular, and informal (sometimes to a fault) as a sports column in The World. Careful attention to setting, plenty of action, a mystery of comfortable complexity (with coincidences worthy of Great Expectations), and a personable, streetwise omniscient narrator make this a gratifying adventure. Readers will root for Maks and Willa, understanding Papa when he says, "These are hard times, but good things can still happen." dean schneider Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

An immigrant family tries to survive crime, poverty and corruption in 1893 New York City.

Earning enough money to cover the rent and basic needs in this year of economic panic is an endless struggle for every member of the family. Every penny counts, even the eight cents daily profit 13-year-old Maks earns by selling newspapers. Maks also must cope with violent attacks by a street gang and its vicious leader, who in turn is being manipulated by someone even more powerful. Now Maks' sister has been wrongly arrested for stealing a watch at her job in the glamorous Waldorf Hotel and is in the notorious Tombs prison awaiting trial. How will they prove her innocence? Maks finds help and friendship from Willa, a homeless street urchin, and Bartleby Donck, an eccentric lawyer. Avi's vivid recreation of the sights and sounds of that time and place is spot on, masterfully weaving accurate historical details with Maks' experiences as he encounters the city of sunshine and shadow. An omniscient narrator speaks directly to readers, establishing an immediacy that allows them to feel the characters' fears and worries and hopes.

Heroic deeds, narrow escapes, dastardly villains, amazing coincidences and a family rich in love and hope are all part of an intricate and endlessly entertaining adventure. Terrific! (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-14) 

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #4

Thirteen-year-old Maks Geless, the oldest son of Danish immigrants, makes eight cents a day hawking The World on Manhattan street corners in 1893. Newbery Medalist Avi tells his story in a vibrant, unsophisticated, present-tense voice (a typical chapter begins, "Okay, now it's the next day--Tuesday"), and it's a hard life. Maks's sister Agnes has TB, the shoe factory where Agnes and Mr. Geless work is suspending operations, and the grocer and landlord want their accounts paid. Then Maks's oldest sister, Emma, is accused of stealing from a guest at the Waldorf Hotel, where she is a maid. Amid this strife, the good-hearted Gelesses take in Willa, a homeless girl who saved Maks from a street gang. Maks and Willa must prove Emma's innocence, with the help of an odd, possibly dying detective (he's coughing up blood, too). The contrasts among Maks's family's squalid tenement existence; Emma's incarceration in the Tombs, the city's infamous prison; and the splendor of the Waldorf bring a stark portrait of 19th-century society to a terrifically exciting read, with Ruth's fine pencil portraits adding to the overall appeal. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 August

Gr 6-8--Maks Geless, 13, and his family live in a tenement in 1893 New York City. His father and older sister work in a factory; another sister works as a maid at the new Waldorf Hotel; his mother takes in laundry; and his younger brothers are still in school. Maks works as a newsie, selling newspapers on street corners. Lately he has been fighting off a gang that is trying to steal his earnings and he has found an unlikely defender in Willa, a homeless girl his age. After his sister is accused of theft at the Waldorf and awaits trial in prison, Maks, with help from Willa and a mysterious detective, seeks to prove her innocence and defeat the gang. Avi gives his omniscient narrator the voice of an old-time movie tough guy, complete with "ain'ts" and dropped first letters ("'specially," "see 'em," "'bout"). He paints a colorful, exciting picture of city life at the turn of the last century, while not shying away from its hardships. While guests at the Waldorf live in luxury, Maks's family deals with illness, filth, and death. The plot moves swiftly, covering much in just five days. The narrative wraps up, like a gangster movie, with a shoot-out at the Waldorf. An author's note grounds the tale in history, and Avi offers additional reading and viewing options. Ruth contributes several fine pencil sketches of the main characters, placing them nicely in their environments.--Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT

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