Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: The Escape from Home - Avi

The Escape from Home by Avi
Series: Beyond the Western Sea #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on March 1, 1996
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 304
Read From: 12.31.11 - 1.1.12

It is 1851. Thousands are fleeing the Old World for the New, desperate to reach America. 
Maura and Patrick O'Connell, fifteen-and twelve-year-old Irish peasants, are forced by Lord Kirkle, their English landlord, to lave Kilonny and seek refuge elsewhere. When their father sends money for passage over to America, they begin a perilous journey from starved Ireland to the bustling, crowded streets of Liverpool. The streets are filled with villains of all size waiting to prey upon Irish immigrants, and overwhelmed with a sense of loss, Maura and Patrick are not sure who to trust. 
Eleven-year-old Laurence is the younger son of Lord Kirkle. Bullied and hated by his elder brother, Laurence runs away, intent upon reaching America and stealing a great sum of money from his father to gain passage over. Ignorant of street life and finding himself bereft of the stolen money, Laurence soon finds himself without a friend - and a great many people who pretend to be his friend, but have their own reasons for capturing him. Lord Kirkle hires Mr. Pickler, private investigator, to track his favorite son down, while Albert, Laurence's brother, hires Mr. Clemspool to ensure that Laurence never returns. Chased from London to Liverpool, Laurence soon finds himself entangled with the fates of Maura and Patrick O'Connell, who are both bound for the same place.


This is probably one of Avi's best books - and the series only gets better with its second installment (but a review for that will come later). Here is a story simply bursting with characters, and all of them are very different from one another, yet interact in realistic, believable ways. Avi throws them into many "what are the odds" situations that are masterfully worked to be possible, and make for a very exciting adventure.

The flaws? Well, I cannot say that Avi's choice of Irish names is very original, and while I like Maura well enough, she isn't the most active heroine - she doubts herself too often, when she should listen to her instincts, - and Patrick is a little too hot-headed to be entirely likable. It makes for their part of the story to be a tiny bit vexing. But that is part of the beauty of having so many characters in one story: there is a bounty to choose from. Laurence Kirkle is not normally a character I would initially like - he's a rich, pampered boy, so he doesn't really know how to do anything, and spends a lot of his time allowing other people take care of him. And one could even venture to say he spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. But Laurence is only eleven, finds himself in a situation far more dire than he ever anticipated, and he has a right to be upset - it seems that wherever he turns, someone is trying to nab him. Despite Laurence's initial uncertainty and uselessness, he's a tough little boy, and once he comes to terms with his new lot in life, he swallows his tears and gets down to learning the ways of the street. One cannot help but like him, from beginning to end.

This is a fun adventure series set in a very fascinating time in history, well researched, and well written. I loved this book when I was a kid and I'll always be a fan. This is one of Avi's finest.

Others in the Beyond the Western Sea Series:
1)The Escape from Home
2)Lord Kirkle's Money

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