City of Orphans

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
City of Orphans Book Poster Image
Newsboy and street urchin solve a mystery in 1893 New York.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The novel frankly depicts the immigrant experience in turn-of-the-century New York and shows what life in a tenement would have been like. It also shows what it was like when newspapers were an important part of daily life.

Positive Messages

Maks, a "newsie," bravely faces the dangers of the streets to sell enough newspapers each day to earn 8 cents, which he gives to his family. All of his family members work together to ensure their survival in a tough, sometimes confusing environment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Maks and Willa are brave and resourceful, and Maks' parents work hard and obey the law. Although he is poor and afflicted with tuberculosis, the private investigator Bartleby Donck helps Maks seek justice for his sister, Emma, who is imprisoned at the Tombs. 


Bruno and his gang, the Plug Uglies, beat up main characters Maks, a "newsie," and his friend Willa. The newsies storm the Uglies' hidden encampment and accidentally cause a fire. Two secondary characters are killed by gunshots.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the adult villains smokes cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this historical novel portrays the hardships endured by immigrant families in New York City and includes an incident of fatal gun violence. The author uses an extremely colloquial style to narrate the story, choosing immediacy and verisimilitude over good grammar. Protagonist Maks and his friend Willa are often in physical danger, but the author avoids depicting graphic bloodshed. (Characters crumple to the floor without any description of their wounds.)

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byDean I. March 29, 2017

Was okay, but needed a better conclusion

I think it need a better conclusion. It left us wanting more. MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE MO... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byChloe.brewer January 3, 2020

Very interesting but very boring

Personaly I would only read it once. it is not worth to read it a second time
Teen, 16 years old Written byKillme plz February 23, 2018


I like dis it nice

What's the story?

Every day, 13-year-old Maks Geless, a \"newsie\" for The World, tries to earn the 8 cents that he can contribute to his family's meager wages. When he runs afoul of local tough Bruno and his gang, the Plug Uglies, he is saved by Willa, a resourceful girl living alone on the streets. Maks takes her to meet his family, but they are preoccupied with the arrest of Maks' older sister, Emma, imprisoned at the Tombs and accused of stealing a gold watch from a room at the Waldorf Hotel. Fearing that Emma will be sent away, Maks and Willa seek help from private investigator Bartleby Donck, who guides Maks as the boy searches for clues at the Waldorf. As Maks and Willa dodge the increasingly dangerous and unstable Bruno, they discover the truth about the missing watch and about the father who abandoned Willa after the death of her mother.

Is it any good?

CITY OF ORPHANS is a fast-paced, well-researched tale that vividly depicts the hardships of life in 1893 New York City. Maks and Willa make a compelling pair of amateur detectives, and Maks' family as a whole is presented with humor and compassion. The climax of the story depends on a good number of unlikely coincidences, but the well-orchestrated suspense mitigates the stretch in credulity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the immigrant experience in turn-of-the-century New York. Why did immigrants from Europe leave their countries of origin and come to America? Were their lives easier once they arrived in New York?

  • This book shows how important daily newspapers were in 19th century New York. When did newspapers stop being a daily habit for most Americans, and why? How does your family get its news? From TV? Radio? Websites?

  • Emma is sent to the Tombs, New York's infamous city jail, on fairly scant evidence. How does the system of justice in this time period differ from our own?

  • Time after time, Maks decides to keep his mother and father in the dark about his experiences on the street. Do you think this strategy is a good one? Why do you think Willa takes a different approach?

Book details

  • Author: Avi
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Atheneum
  • Publication date: September 6, 2011
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
  • Number of pages: 368
  • Last updated: July 13, 2017

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