Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi

One of the things I like about reading a novel by Avi is that I can (almost) always count on it being an interesting work of historical fiction and his latest novel is no exception.

The story begins on the morning of November 12, 1724. Oliver, 12, wakes up to discover that not only has a violent storm flooded his home and his town of Melcombe Regis on the Dorset coast, but his father is also missing, and Oliver has no idea where he might be. His father left a note telling him where he went, but it is too waterlogged to read.

Left with no money and no food, Oliver heads outside, and discovers a shipwreck on the beach. He decides to explore a little even though he knows that taking anything at all from a shipwreck is a death-by-hanging offense. Still, when he discovers 30 shillings, he decides to “borrow” 23 shillings, which he figures is more than enough money to live on until his father returns.

Unfortunately for Oliver, his lawyer father has managed to offend pretty much everyone in Melcombe Regis, so when those in authority discover that he is alone and his father missing, they decide the best place for Oliver is in the poorhouse.

After hiding his ill-gotten shillings, and figuring the poorhouse is at least good for food and shelter, Oliver lets himself be taken to there with plans on remaining for only two weeks. But escaping it takes longer and is harder than he had anticipated. But escape he does, and decides to travel to London, where his older sister Charity lives and works and who may know something about what happened to their father.

The road to London, however, is paved with one setback after another for Oliver, including a gang of ruthless highway robbers, led by one notorious Captain Hawkes. Kidnapping Oliver, Hawkes already knows about the shillings he stole from the shipwreck, and decides that since Oliver is already a thief, he can be used for more highway robberies.

Just when you think that Oliver couldn’t possibly have more adventures and misadventures, Hawkes takes him to London, and next thing Oliver knows, he is reluctantly involved with the (real life) criminal Jonathan Wild. But will he ever find Charity and his father and get out of this mess?

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts is a very exciting story. Each chapter ends with such a strong cliffhanger, that I couldn’t help but turn the page and keep reading. And I did finish the book in one sitting because of that. 

Avi is really a master at placing his characters in difficult situations, and then following them step-by-step as their story plays out. In this way, it makes it so easy and rather understandable as we watch Oliver’s life spiral into crime.

Oliver narrates this engaging tale in language that authentically reflects the time in which he lives, but not so much so that it will put young readers off. Besides, Oliver is just too appealing to leave him to his fate without taking the journey with him.

I also feel that some of the novel's real strength lies in the vivid descriptions of life in early 18th century England. The abusive treatment of even very young children is part of Oliver’s experience in the poorhouse, where cold, underfed regimented children are forced to do hard, menial work for long hours and faced cruel punishment for any act of disobedience. 
In Melcombe Regis and in London, there are 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).

All in all, The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts is an exciting adventure. It is the first book in a series and I personally can’t wait to read Book 2 and see what else life holds for Oliver Cromwell Pitts.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. This sounds great though heartbreaking in places. I haven't read an Avi book in quite a while so I'm looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the review.

  2. And he has yet another one coming out-- The Player King. Oliver had its moments, but The Player King seemed like several other books I'd read before.

  3. I'm just not a fan of this author. He is an excellent writer, but I am consistently disappointed by his characters' choices and his conspicuous world view. Thanks for the review. If I try his work again, this will be a contender.

  4. Sounds interesting. I usually like books set in another time period.

  5. I don't know how Avi comes up with all this stuff...:) I guess the fact that you read it in one sitting must mean it's prettty good. Either that or you're just very disciplined!


Imagination Designs