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The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts

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Member Reviews

Oliver Cromwell Pitts is a normal 12-year old boy, living in 18th century England. The morning we meet him, he is woken during a freak storm that rips his roof off and floods his house. More distressing, his father is nowhere to be found and the note he left is illegible from the water. Forced to attempt to find answers, Oliver finds himself landing in more precarious situations as each decision leads to more disastrous results than the last.

For books targeting Middle School readers, I was incredibly pleased by how much I enjoyed reading this book, and the sequel. The subject matter is handled brilliantly, but parents and teachers should be familiar with these books, as the brutality of the time period is not glossed over. Avi raises difficult questions and presents an accurate portrayal of history, but does so in a way that isn’t grotesque, glorifying, or frivolous. In fact, I think this series gives younger readers the chance to experience history while enjoying the adventure of the story, a feat that isn’t easy to accomplish.

The writing has a very old-English feel to it, but rather than make it cumbersome or unapproachable, instead it gives the entire narration a musical feel. This lyrical rhythm makes it easy to read, and, I suspect, even more delightful to read aloud. This style also makes the books feel like classics. Not in the sense of becoming an instant classic, but more, they actually feel as if they were written in the 18th century. It will challenge middle grade readers to expand their vocabulary, but not so much that it’s difficult to read on their own.

Each chapter has fun headings, which serve to let the reader stay on track with the plot, and what to expect. I really loved how these were so fluidly woven in, so much that they became part of the writing. The chapters are short and pack a punch, with action propelling Oliver forward at a continuous pace. Even though this series is targeting younger readers, there are numerous profound statements and lessons learned, again, making this a series with an incredibly wide appeal for readers of all ages.

The language, the descriptions, even the style in which the story is written, all lends itself to opening a young mind to the curiosity of learning more. This is a story designed to help a child learn through the enjoyment of fiction, but it’s also written so that an adult can also enjoy and appreciate not just the world, but the story as well. This is a series I think parents, and teachers, will enjoy sharing with their children.

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for including me on this blog tour, and sending me a review copy of the first two books! Both books are available now.
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This is an exciting, fast-paced story.

Oliver’s story starts out as a series of unfortunate events. His sister goes to London to find a better life, but it isn’t the life she thought it would be. Then his father disappears to go save his sister. Oliver is caught at a shipwreck, suspected of stealing, and then sent to a poorhouse. Then he has to travel to London with highwaymen who steal from carriages along the way.

This story was very fast-paced. Oliver never stayed in one place for very long, so the setting was always changing. He met many different people throughout the story and most of them were connected in some way.

I liked the ending of the story. There was a lot of tension while Oliver was in London! I’m excited to see where the story goes in the next book, The End of the World and Beyond.
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I've enjoyed Avi's books for years, and I was excited to find this new series. I haven't read any of Avi's books in a while now, and I still couldn't wait to read it. I'll admit though that when I started reading this series I struggled a bit to get used to the language style and the monotone used by the narrator. I did enjoy the story and history thrown in, but I'm not sure children would enjoy the slower pace this story takes.
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Book: The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts
Author: Avi
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I would like to thank the publisher Algonquin Young Readers for sending me this ARC. So, I have been reading Avi since I was in the fifth grade, which is what I actually teach. I have had a love-hate relationship with Avi, meaning that I really liked some of his books and could not get through some of them. So, I really didn’t know how I would feel about this one whenever I was approached about featuring this series on my blog. 

I really liked how fast paced this book was. There was no few chapters of world building and getting us familiar with the characters. Instead, we are thrown into the world and are expected to keep up. No, it’s not a bad thing. I personally like how Avi weaves in what we need to know throughout the story without boring us with all of the details. The fast pace and the characters really did remind me of Oliver Twist-sorry if that’s what you weren’t going for. (Don’t get me wrong, I do actually love Oliver Twist)

The characters started out as being a little bit flat, which I knew would change just based on what I have read of Avi. As the book progresses, we get to see just how complex and well written characters we have to read about. There are  criminals who are acting like good people, good people who get thrown into the world of crime, and people who are just trying to do the wrong thing. We get to see the main characters, the Pitts, struggle with trying to keep their heads above water and not be thrown into this life. 

I loved the historical setting. In case you haven’t realized, I do love history-just look at what most of the books are that I review. Anyway, I love British novels because it’s so fun to read about places outside of where I live. I really don’t know much about England in 1724, but I did like how Avi pulled in information from past events. For example, look at the title, English Civil War and we get to see this play out. We also get to see a little bit of the political tensions and see the gaps in classes. Now, most of what I read does focus on the wealthy, so this was a nice change to see something from the poor. I really do like getting to read about the struggles of the day to day people. 

So, I really did end up liking this book. It is fast paced and full of action, which is something that the target audience-middle school, I believe- will enjoy. I do have the second book as well, so I will let you know what I think of the rest of the series. 

Oh, The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts is actually out now so you can go pick up a copy yourself.
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I loved the characters in the book.  I would recommend this book to my readers at the library.
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A truly exciting and engrossing novel, The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts tells the story of a young boy in 18th century England and the misfortunes--and wild adventures--that befall him when his father leaves him, on the same night a terrible storm hits their coastal village, to seek out Oliver's teenage sister in London. Making the acquaintance of a variety of unscrupulous characters, from highway robbers to local enemies of his generally disliked father, Oliver's Dickensian autobiography is written in the tone of the times, and it is clear that author Avi had a soft spot for the English literature of centuries past, as well as enough integrity to not gloss over the truly horrific quality of life many people endured in London during those times. The book, in its way, truly serves to take readers back in time. Whether you're a child or an adult looking for a bit of uncomplicated reading, this book is a breeze to plow through (to mix every metaphor) and never ceases to be engaging.

Now to sit and wait for the sequel.

Thanks to Algonquin and NetGalley for this ARC.
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AVI never disappoints. I read this book in a matter of hours as I was entranced by young Oliver Cromwell. His Father was one who I wanted to get tried by fire, but he did end up helping young Oliver in the end. A neat story about honesty and finding one's way through life's path.
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The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts

Now and again, I run into a foregone conclusion when looking through the Net Gallery offerings of ARCs to be read and reviewed. I enjoy discovering debut writers, but if Avi is the author, my request is automatic. This master of historical fiction in The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts evoked another favorite author (Charles Dickens) and another favorite Oliver (Twist). The book begins with a tempest sweeping through his home and gets steadily worse from there. 

Oliver, in 1700s England, left to his own devices after his father goes to London to seek his sister, finds his father’s unreadable note sodden from the storm. The note might have had some useful information – not that his father had been much help even when he was present with only repeated promises to be a better father next time.  

In Dickensian tradition, Oliver goes from worse to much worse. As he describes his life about halfway through the book, “If you have followed my story – and I hope you have not skipped a word because I have labored extremely hard on each and every one – you should have noted that every time I move forward, I am thwarted by an adult.” 

Avi has never disappointed me with a good read, including this book. The one difference? He’s left an enticing lead to a sequel. Naturally, I had to check and see when it would be coming out. According to his blog, the next book is “pretty much done” although he was talking to the editor about changing a word. 

Don’t I hate waiting for the sequel to a book that’s had me turning pages?
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This reads like a children’s classic in a Dickensian style minus the verbosity. More on that later.

What I love most about this novel are the characters, the story, and the writing style.

This story takes place in England, 1724. Oliver, his sister Charity, and his father Gabriel are a poor family surrounded by criminal masterminds. Charity goes to London and Oliver wakes up and realizes that not only is his father missing, but also their house is flooded from a storm. His father left him a note, but it’s waterlogged and he can’t read it. He has no money and their food is spoiled. He wants to go to London to reunite with his family, but has no idea how he’ll pay for the stagecoach to get there. His journey to London is full of adventure and obstacles. Throughout the novel, I kept thinking this was called The Unfortunate Life…He’s not facing minor obstacles, he’s facing a lot of hardship, plus he feels that his life is in constant danger. It wasn’t until the end that the title felt truly appropriate.

Oliver says throughout the novel, “Please, sir”, which always reminded me of the famous line in Oliver Twist, ”Please, sir. I want some more.” Oliver is a smart, resourceful twelve year old, although he’s small for his size and people often think he’s younger. His sister Charity is six years older than he is and plays a motherly role since Oliver’s mother died in childbirth. Their father Gabriel is, well, inept and full of empty promises. There’s a character whose first name is Ebenezer. There are so many criminals in this story! I’m not going to give a rundown of all the characters, but I will say that there are a lot of interesting ones. They’re developed enough for you to either care about them or hate them to the core. I will mention that Jonathan Wild is a character and he’s based on a real person.

The story almost has a constantly feeling of hopelessness, because every time Oliver turns around, he has another hurdle to overcome. What did give me hope was Oliver’s fighting spirit, persistence and Charity’s love for her brother. I loved Oliver’s adventures even if they did involve highwaymen and a brief stay in a poorhouse. There’s never a dull moment. The ending is left open. In fact, the last line of the novel says, (view spoiler).

The storytelling makes this a real page-turner. The pacing felt right on target. I can’t think of any moment when I wanted to skim to get to the good parts. It’s descriptive without feeling overdone. The dialogue makes the characters sound distinct. It was so easy to visualize the movie in my mind as I read it. There were plenty of sensory details.

As I said earlier, this has a Dickensian style. There were several aspects of this novel that made me think this. One aspect was the character names of Oliver and Ebenezer. Another was the predicaments of the main characters. They were poor and Oliver went to a poorhouse. Mostly, the writing style and overall tone reminded me of Dickens. It has a proper English tone in the narrative voice, but also has informal dialect in some of the dialogue. Here are a few quotes that may help explain what I mean.

    ”A solitary candle provided a pale yellow flickering, which threw out more dejection than light, the very replication of our minds.”

    “Nary a friendly face did I see anywhere.”

    “I could not think or breathe, though I could weep, and did, the kind of choking, sobbing cry that shakes the whole body and soul.” 

As I was reading this, I could easily hear Simon Vance narrating the audiobook. In addition, there were Bible quotes that I thought were appropriate to the story.

I do have a tiny continuity error to mention. It’s not a big deal, but something that I noticed. Oliver is described as having curly, brown hair, but the boy on the cover has straight hair. With the light and shadow on the cover design, it also looks like his hair could be dark blond instead of brown. I know. I’m sort of nitpicking.

I have one other minor issue to mention. A young man is questioning Oliver and asks him if he heard about a wrecked ship in town being looted. The young man says to Oliver, ”Did you have a hand in that? Is that why you’re on the road at night?” When I read that, it just felt like it was too big of a leap in logic.

Overall, I loved this novel and I’m looking forward to reading another AVI novel. I recommend The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts to anyone who enjoys children’s historical fiction. It’s a quick, entertaining read.
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We've been reading Treasure Island in or around the sixth grade at the Viking Academy, and I think this year we'll sub in this book instead. You get all the authentic atmosphere in a much more readable narrative. Oliver lives with his father and sister in a little seashore town in Britain. His older sister has had to take on most of his care since their mother died soon after his birth. After she turns eighteen, she realizes that things are never going to change in their home and leaves him with their gambler almost missing father and leaves to seek her fortune in London. 

That is where Oliver's bad luck begins. He awakes one morning to find his home destroyed in flood and his father gone. The note his father left is wet, and Oliver is forced to guess every other word and can't really make sense of it. He gets sent to an orphanage, and things don't actually improve for a good long while. 

In the end, he does reunite with his father and sister briefly before the book concludes leaving us wondering if he and his sister will find each other in the sequel.  I enjoyed it and will be ordering it for our personal library.
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