City of Orphans
[September 6, 2011]
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.
I don't really do middle grade. It just doesn't work for me most of the time. But this is historical fiction in New York City and I was intrigued.
I actually really enjoyed it. It was this fun little mystery and while bad things are happening all around, it never felt heavy. The realities and the horrors of the time hovered on the pages, but it wasn't distracting and it wasn't the focus. It was all about Maks and Willa and their family. While they weren't going through the best times, having it mostly be about kids kept it from ever feeling truly depressing.
I loved the characters. There were good guys and bad guys and people that were bad because they had to be. Maks' family was fantastic. His parents were kind but not overly soft. I really loved both of his sisters. They were interesting. Maks himself was brave and fun and courageous but also a good kid. I wasn't a huge fan of his brothers, mostly because they didn't seem to have a huge part in the story. Willa was another wonderful character. She was street smart and strong and just...I wanted to hug her.
I really liked the writing. It was more like somebody was physically telling me this story than I was reading it. It's a style that I've never seen before but it kept me engaged, almost as if I was an active participant in the story. And the pictures were really helpful too. The perspective jumps could be a little confusing, but never impossible.
The mystery of it was fun. It took some time to slowly put the pieces together and eventually it all just made sense, even though the characters couldn't tell yet.
Overall it was just a really good, fun read. The writing was fantastic, the characters were wonderful and the story itself was intriguing. I definitely recommend this one.