Life, it is commonly said, is full of possibilities. Let it also be acknowledged: life is also full of impossibilities.
Sometimes books find their way into our lives at just the right moments. This series is one of those experiences, and I am delighted they found me!
Oliver Cromwell Pitts is a normal 12-year old boy, living in 18th century England. The morning we meet him, he is woken during a freak storm that rips his roof off and floods his house. More distressing, his father is nowhere to be found and the note he left is illegible from the water. Forced to attempt to find answers, Oliver finds himself landing in more precarious situations as each decision leads to more disastrous results than the last.
This takes us to the sequel, The End Of The World And Beyond. Here, we are once again with Oliver as he begins the next seven years of his life as an indentured servant. When he is purchased by a cruel master, the unexpected becomes unbearable. Befriending the only other slave on the plantation, the two boys try to escape the intolerable. Surviving the plantation with their lives, they find themselves in a swamp full of deadly creatures, being pursued by even deadlier men. Will he ever make his way back to his family?
For books targeting Middle School readers, I was incredibly pleased by how much I enjoyed reading these. The subject matter is handled brilliantly, but parents and teachers should be familiar with these books, as the brutality of the time period is not glossed over. Avi raises difficult questions and presents an accurate portrayal of history, but does so in a way that isn’t grotesque, glorifying, or frivolous. In fact, I think this series gives younger readers the chance to experience history while enjoying the adventure of the story, a feat that isn’t easy to accomplish.
The writing has a very old-English feel to it, but rather than make it cumbersome or unapproachable, instead it gives the entire narration a musical feel. This lyrical rhythm makes it easy to read, and, I suspect, even more delightful to read aloud. This style also makes the books feel like classics. Not in the sense of becoming an instant classic, but more, they actually feel as if they were written in the 18th century. It will challenge middle grade readers to expand their vocabulary, but not so much that it’s difficult to read on their own.
Each chapter has fun headings, which serve to let the reader stay on track with the plot, and what to expect. I really loved how these were so fluidly woven in, so much that they became part of the writing. The chapters are short and pack a punch, with action propelling Oliver forward at a continuous pace. Even though this series is targeting younger readers, there are numerous profound statements and lessons learned, again, making this a series with an incredibly wide appeal for readers of all ages.
The language, the descriptions, even the style in which the story is written, all lends itself to opening a young mind to the curiosity of learning more. This is a story designed to help a child learn through the enjoyment of fiction, but it’s also written so that an adult can also enjoy and appreciate not just the world, but the story as well. This is a series I think parents, and teachers, will enjoy sharing with their children.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for including me on this blog tour, and sending me a review copy of the first two books! Both books are available now.
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts introduced readers to Oliver, a boy who awakes in his 18-century English home to find his house flooded, his family missing, and his pantry and purse empty. After a series of misadventures, Oliver reunites with his sister, Charity, only to be torn apart again when the two are sentenced to indentured servitude in America, and sent off on separate boats.
The End of the World and Beyond picks up Oliver’s ill-fated journey across the Atlantic. Oliver is shackled to his fellow prisoners, and endures inedible food, filthy conditions, and deadly storms. But the hazardous shipboard journey is nothing compared to the peril that waits for him on the colonial shores.
After the ship’s landing in Annapolis, Oliver’s indentured servitude is purchased by the foul, miserly Fitzhugh, who is rumored to have murdered another servant. On Fitzhugh’s isolated tobacco farm, Oliver’s only companion is an enslaved boy named Bara. Oliver and Bara become fast friends with one shared goal: to escape with their lives. But first the boys must flee Fitzhugh’s plantation, outrun their brutal pursuer, and survive the dangers that lurk deep in the nearby cypress swamp.
The Unexpected Life Oliver Cromwell Pitts was praised as “brimming with fast-paced action, evocative settings, and villains” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), “an ingeniously plotted Dickensian story filled with suspense, surprises, and ultimately satisfaction” (Booklist, starred review), and “impossible to put down” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review). The End of the World and Beyond delivers even more high-adventure, sinister villains, and surprising twists as only Avi can provide.
Avi is the author of the Newbery Medal novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead and the Newbery Honor books Nothing But the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, among many other books for young readers. Catch You Later, Traitor was inspired by his own childhood in Brooklyn during the Red Scare. Avi now lives in Colorado. You can visit him online at www.avi-writer.com.