City of Saints & Thieves

Dearest readers, do you ever get to a point where you don’t feel like reading much of anything? Well, that’s been me for the past week or so. (I blame end-of-year testing and other assorted craziness at school.) I’ve cleaned off my DVR, spent some quality time with Netflix, and taken quite a few naps, but I just haven’t had the energy to read much lately. Hopefully, though, I’ve turned a corner and can devote the more of my oh-so-valuable time to the books that mean so much to me.

Today, I bring you a book that took me nearly a month to get through, City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson. It’s a good book, but it’s not exactly an easy read. It’s dark, gritty, and real, and, to be perfectly honest, that’s not something I’m always in the mood for. I have to be in the right frame of mind to really delve into a book like this one, and I just haven’t been there. I did, however, find the will to finish this book over the course of the past couple of days. While it was kind of slow to start, in my opinion, the action really picked up near the middle, and it didn’t let up until the very end.

Tina, a girl surviving by her wits in the heart of Sangui City, Kenya, has her mind set on one thing–revenge. Her mother was brutally murdered five years ago, and Tina has made it her mission in life to make the killer pay. She thinks she knows who did the deed, and she’s working with a local gang to bring the man to his knees. But what if she’s wrong?

Tina believes with ever fiber of her being that Roland Greyhill, an influential businessman in Africa, murdered her mother. Mr. Greyhill had a relationship with Tina’s mom, and they had a child together, but that didn’t stop him from threatening her, an act that Tina witnessed late one night. Of course he’s the one who made good on his threat. All Tina has to do is prove it…and that may be harder than she anticipated when Michael, her former friend and Mr. Greyhill’s son, catches her breaking into the Greyhill estate.

After a somewhat rough reintroduction to each other, Michael convinces a reluctant Tina to at least consider the possibility that his father did not murder her mother. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. So who else could have done it?

Tina and Michael, with some major assists from Tina’s hacker friend, BoyBoy, go on the hunt for evidence that will either prove or disprove Mr. Greyhill’s innocence. What they find, however, makes Tina question everything she thought she knew about her mother. What was she hiding? What really drove her from their home in the Congo to the Greyhill estate in Kenya? And could uncovering the truth of it all put Tina and her friends in the same crosshairs that were aimed at her mother?

Who really killed Tina’s mother? Was it Mr. Greyhill, or is there another, more sinister, and even closer threat that Tina never could have imagined?


I hope I’ve at least piqued your interest with this post. Even though it took me a little while to get into this book, I did enjoy it, and I especially liked that the book featured non-Western perspectives. I haven’t read many YA books set in Africa–that’s my own fault–and this book definitely made me want to change that.

City of Saints & Thieves, in my opinion, is suited to a mature teen audience. Like I mentioned before, it is dark and gritty, and it does deal with issues like war, rape, murder, and the aftereffects of all of those things. The author’s note at the end of the book indicates that a lot of what we see in the book is based on real events. For that reason, this book could be a springboard for discussions on the plights of women and refugees in Congo and other parts of the world.

If you’d like to learn more about City of Saints & Thieves, billed as a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl, visit author Natalie C. Anderson’s website. You can also follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

City of Orphans

Well, my summer is nearly at an end, and I’ve almost finished reading the twenty books nominated for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Last night, I finished #19, City of Orphans by Avi (also nominated for the South Carolina Junior Book Award). Had this book not been nominated for the SCCBA, I don’t know that I would have picked it up. It’s no secret that historical fiction is not my favorite genre. (For those wondering, the 20th SCCBA nominee left to read is also historical fiction. I’ve put it off as long as possible.) After reading City of Orphans, though, I’m honestly glad I gave this book a chance.

For the most part, this is not a particularly happy book, but it does explore what life was like for kids in turn-of-the-century New York. (Hint: If you had no money, it was bad.) The title, City of Orphans, refers to the fact that even kids with parents, most of whom were immigrants, were–for all intents and purposes–orphans. It was up to them to figure out how and where to make money, where to go when they needed help, and how to get out of bad situations. In this book, we meet Maks and Willa, two “orphans” just trying to survive in this bleak world.

It’s 1893, and New York City is teeming with people–immigrants, crooks, cops, and, most of all, kids. Kids just trying to survive, trying to make a few cents to help their families. One of these kids is Maks Geless. Maks is a newsie. (He sells newspapers on street corners.)

One night, Maks runs into some trouble on his way home from work. Trouble by the name of Bruno and the Plug Ugly Gang. Maks is sure he’s dead meat…until a dirty, homeless girl with a big stick saves him. This girl, Willa, has lived in the streets for months, and Maks figures the least he can do is give her a place to stay for coming to his rescue. So Maks takes Willa home to stay with his family.

Maks’ family, immigrants from Denmark, lives in a tenement, nearly ten people crammed into one small apartment, but it’s home, and they’re all together…until Maks’ older sister Emma is arrested! Maks is sure that Emma must be innocent. There’s simply no way she could have stolen a watch from someone at the new, fancy Waldorf hotel where she works. Maks’ parents are unfamiliar with the way things really work in America, so it’s up to Maks–and his new friend Willa–to figure out just what happened with Emma and the case of the stolen watch.

All the while, Maks and Willa have to watch out for the scary Bruno and this gang, just waiting to terrorize them and take their meager earnings. Can these two kids save their own necks while trying to get Maks’ sister out of jail? And is anyone willing to help two poor kids–who have no money–without expecting something in return? What will these two junior detectives discover in their quest for the truth? The answers will shock even them and will have the power to turn their worlds upside down. Learn how two kids navigate the perilous waters of turn-of-the-century New York when you read City of Orphans by Avi!

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I think City of Orphans is a great discussion-starter about what kids experienced throughout history. As a former social studies teacher, I can tell you that most lessons focus on what adults did in the past. Not much attention is given to kids’ experiences, and that’s a shame. I think many students today would find lessons more engaging and relatable if they could somehow identify with the people they were studying. Do we need to ignore what adults were doing during historical periods? No, but we shouldn’t discount a large portion of the population just because they’re young. (I see a research project in the future for some of my students!)

I also believe City of Orphans could be a “gateway” book to other works of literature. Those that immediately come to mind are the works of Charles Dickens, particularly Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. City of Orphans, while not quite as bleak–or wordy–as Dickens’ works, has the same kind of tone. I don’t particularly care for Dickens, but others do, and readers who really enjoy City of Orphans may want to explore a few of these classics.

If you’d like more information about this book and others by Avi, visit http://www.avi-writer.com/. You can also like his page on Facebook.

I hope you enjoy City of Orphans as much as I did!