Synopses & Reviews
The streets of 1893 New York are full of life: crowded, filthy, dangerous. If you are a newsboy like thirteen-year-old Maks Geless, you need to watch out for Bruno, leader of the Plug Ugly Gang whose shadowy, sinister boss is plotting to take control of all the newsies on the lower East Side. With Bruno’s boys in fierce pursuit, Maks discovers Willa, a strange girl who lives alone in an alley. It is she, stick in hand, who fights off the Plug Uglies — but further dangers await. Maks must find a way to free his sister Emma from The Tombs, the city jail where she has been imprisoned for stealing a watch at the glamorous new Waldorf Hotel. Maks, believing her innocent, has only four days to prove it. Fortunately, there is Bartleby Donck, the eccentric lawyer (among other employments) to guide Maks and Willa in the art of detection. Against a backdrop alive with the sights and sounds of tenement New York, Maks, as boy detective, must confront a teeming world of wealth and crime, while struggling against powerful forces threatening new immigrants and the fabric of family love.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly
City of Orphans.
Avi (Author) , Ruth, Greg (Illustrator)
Sep 2011. 368 p. Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson, hardcover, $16.99. (9781416971023).
Dickensian street action comes to New York’s Lower East Side in this gripping story, set in 1893, of
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 desperate 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.
--Booklist, August 1, 2011, *STAR
"Narrating in the present tense, Avi attempts a colloquial, first-person “Lemme tell you how it was” style not normally found in books for middle graders. The opening, which describes Maks so vividly you feel that he’s standing right in front of you, strikes the kind of friendly note bound to draw in the average reader. 'Now, this Maks, he’s regular height for a 13-year-old, ruddy-faced, shaggy brown hair, always wearing a cloth cap, canvas jacket and trousers, plus decent boots.' In short, he’s a 'newsie'…honest-to-goodness historical mysteries are hard to find, and Avi doles out his clues carefully, allowing children the chance to feel smart if they put two and two together." The New York Times Book Review
"Like the intricate inner workings of a fine gold watch from a bygone era, Avi crafts a not-to-be-missed mystery/thriller yarn featuring a colorful cast of mugs and swells and set amidst the opulence and the poverty of nineteenth century Manhattan." Richie's Picks
As a newsboy on the streets of 1893 New York, thirteen-year-old Maks Geless has a hard enough time evading the grasp of the Plug Ugly gang, whose sinister boss wants to control all the newsies on the Lower East Side. But now Maks is burdened with a new challenge: proving the innocence of his sister, Emma — in just four days. While Emma’s confined to the city jail for allegedly stealing a watch at the glamorous new Waldorf Hotel, Maks teams up with Willa, a strange but loyal girl who lives alone in an alley, and Bartleby Donck, an eccentric lawyer (among other employments), to do some urgently needed detective work.
The vividly described sights and sounds of tenement New York — and Avi’s trademark plot twists and turns — thrust the reader alongside Maks as he confronts a world teeming with wealth and crime and struggles against powerful forces that threaten new immigrants and the fabric of family love.
About the Author
Avi is the author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction. He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. Visit him at Avi-Writer.com.
Greg Ruth has published work forThe New York Times, DC Comics, Paradox Press, Fantagraphics Books, and more. His books for children include, Our Enduring Spirit by President Barack Obama, A Pirate's Guide to First Grade by James Preller and others. Greg lives and works in Western Massachusetts.