City of Orphans

by Avi
350 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Ariel_of_Narnia

Good read with fine characters and great historical backdrop.


Times are tough during the Panic of 1893. And Maks Geless knows it for himself. He has to deal with the Plug Ugly gang who'd love nothing more than to rob him of his hard-earned pennies and thrash him good. He has to cope with his oldest sister's arrest for a crime she didn't commit. He has to help his already-struggling family as troubles pile up. And he has a very lonely alleyway girl named Willa to befriend.


The Gelesses are a fine family who are all about working together. They're also very compassionate, though it takes them some time to see past their first impressions of Willa.

Maks, overall, is a good kid, though there are times he does things behind his parents' backs (with the logic that if he doesn't tell them something, they won't know to forbid him from it) and, at one point, he cheats a man of three cents. These are clearly seen as wrong. Willa starts out distrustful and full of secrets, but she cares about Maks and his family and is an honest girl.

Spiritual Content

God's name is exclaimed a few times ("Good God!" and similar phrases). A Catholic who boards with the Gelesses prays and crosses himself before a meal. Maks sees another person kneeling in prayer.


Three fights between kids, one of which involves a larger number of boys, cobblestones, and sticks. One teen boy harbors hatred for a man and he eventually leaves with the intent of killing him. Two people are shot and killed. Two characters barely make it out of a house fire and some think that at least one other might have perished in the same fire (though that's not the case).

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mention of men smoking. Saloons are passed. Maks and Willa enter one but with no intention of getting a drink.

Sexual Content

None. The boarder and one of Maks' older sisters are attracted to one another, but Mr. and Mrs. Geless disapprove on the basis that Agnes is only fourteen.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Unrecorded curses, most of which happen during a brawl.


The streets of New York were hard, filthy, and dangerous. The book doesn't shy away from any of it. It doesn't romanticize the situation. But at the same time, the book is very firm on its perspective of a solid family and a worthy friendship and demonstrates that, no matter what, these can help you get through any situation.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: 11-12

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