The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts:
High adventure about one boy’s attempt to fend for himself among cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves.
Awards and Recognition
ILA/CBC Choices Reading List 2018
Wakening to a terrible storm, 12-year-old Oliver Cromwell Pitts finds his English seaside house flooded and his lawyer father gone off to London, leaving the child bereft, penniless, and facing the unsavory possibility of being remanded to the children's poorhouse. Alas, that is exactly what happens. Happily, circumstances and quick wits allow him to flee the dreadful place, but, his life now in danger, he must escape to London. But how? Because of his escape and the fact that he has, er, borrowed some money, he's wanted by the authorities and must travel secretly, and the road to the capital is long and fraught with danger-there will be no relying on the kindness of strangers. Will he find his way to London? One hopes so, for our hero Oliver is an unusually appealing character, whom we applaud while decrying his enemies, who are deliciously evil, unctuous, and depraved. In using Oliver as his first-person narrator, Avi does a superb job of suggesting the style and syntax of eighteenth-century speech, while telling 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. Please, sir, may we have some more? (Yes: a sequel is promised.) (Michael Cart, Booklist)
In 1724 in the English seaside town of Melcombe Regis, twelve-year-old Oliver Cromwell Pitts awakens to a fierce storm, a flooded house, and a ship washed ashore. His world is about to be changed forever. When Oliver takes twenty- three shillings from the ship, he knows he has committed a crime that could get him hanged. Though not technically an orphan, he has no one to help him. His mother died after he was born, his older sister Charity moved to London; now, just before the storm, his lawyer father has also fled to London, leaving Oliver alone. Imprisoned in the local children's poorhouse, he escapes and takes to the road, where he is forced into becoming a highwayman by a captain of the (real life) criminal mastermind Jonathan Wild, whose network spreads weblike across England. Inexorably leading to London, Oliver's odyssey lands him in Newgate Prison, where he, Charity, and Mr. Pitts are "swallowed by the legal system," awaiting trial. Will they hang, or be thankful to merely be whipped, branded, or transported overseas? This action-packed Oliver Twist-like tale is carefully orchestrated, with short chapters, cliff hangers, lush descriptions, and historical details neatly woven in throughout. Inaugurating a new series, this book stands by itself as an entertaining, old-fashioned, page-turning adventure, though it seems clear where the next installment will lead. A brief author's note offers some background to the novel. (The Horn Book Magazine)
Oliver narrates this engaging tale but the novel's real strength lies in the vivid descriptions of London and the depictions of the farce of 18th century "justice" as practiced in the Old Bailey and the prisons of the period (where prisoners are charged for the privilege of being incarcerated). Oliver's first impression of London: "Mazes of narrow streets bent and twisted now this direction, now that, filled to their boundaries with garbage, filth fairly flowing down center gutters. Mud and dust everywhere. Within the city, the smell I had noted from afar was much intensified - dung, offal, rotting food, dead animals, rats, cats and dogs... And the noise! A constant drumming of jabber, buzzes, chatter, shouts and screams..." And in the Old Bailey, the judges "put me in mind of a row of birds of prey sitting on a fence." "(A starring role is played by Great Britain's actual preeminent criminal Jonathan Wild, model for many literary criminal masterminds.) A sequel is planned. (The Buffalo News)