The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of My Follies, Fortune, and Fate
Algonquin Young Readers, 2017
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What’s this book about?
High adventure from a master storyteller about one boy’s attempt to fend for himself among cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves.
In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery–and London might be the most dangerous place of all.
In the tradition of his Newbery Honor book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi mixes high adventure and short, page-turning chapters with a vivid historical setting featuring a cast of highwaymen, pickpockets, and villainous criminal masterminds.
Story Behind the Story
Jonathan Wild (1685–1725) was England’s most notorious crook. Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) wrote about him, as did Henry Fielding (Tom Jones). It has been suggested that Dickens’ character, Fagan, from Oliver Twist is based on him. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ arch rival, Moriarty, is also said to be modeled on him.
“With dry wit and strong Dickensian flavor, this first installment in Avi’s Oliver Cromwell Pitts saga has an 18th century British boy finding misfortune everywhere he turns…..[plot summary]….Every cliffhanger-ending 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)
“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)
“An involving, twisty mystery, grounded by the palpable emotional threat of Pete’s father being taken away. An accomplished historical mystery by one of kid lit’s most reliable craftspeople.” (Booklist)
“I thought this book was so captivating, I read it all in one sitting!!!” (Grace Ann, age 10, Kids BookBuzz)
“This book, by Newbery Medal winner Avi, may be aimed for 8- to 12-year-olds, but really it’s for all ages. This fast-moving story will remind you why you fell in love with reading as a kid, and is sure to kindle a love of reading for today’s youngsters who read it. Recommended.” (Historical Novel Society)
“Nearly impossible to put down. Avi’s latest is full of rich history and fascinating characters. The plot is perfectly arranged, the action is well paced, and the characters—both the evil and the good—are interesting and keep you rooting for them or against them. This is a book that should be a part of every middle grade classroom. The vocabulary, wordplay, and history can be the basis for multiple lesson plans across many subjects, and I suspect every reader will identify with Oliver Cromwell Pitts and his plight at some point. The beauty of The Unexpected Life is Avi’s ability to write for the period in a way that is accessible and believable.” (YA Books Central)
“I love the way Avi builds momentum. Once you start reading this book, there’s no stopping. It’s completely engaging. As the reader, you watch helplessly as Oliver gets sucked deeper and deeper into his life of crime. I loved how the author used a “voice” that felt realistic to the time period, yet still highly readable and engaging. The characters feel true to life—like they could have been real people. My one complaint is that I have to wait so long for the next book! This book is definitely going on my “to read again” shelf. I’m also passing it along to my daughter. She’ll love it. This is a historical fiction novel set in England. It will appeal to kids ages 8–12 who enjoy adventure, thieves, and unexpected plot twists.” (Batch of Books)