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Crispin: The Cross of Lead

by Avi

Publishers Weekly : Set in 14th-century England, Avi's (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) 50th book begins with a funeral, that of a village outcast whose past is shrouded in mystery and whose adolescent son is known only as "Asta's son." Mired in grief for his mother, the boy learns his given name, Crispin, from the village priest, although his presumably dead father's identity remains obscure. The words etched on his mother's treasured lead cross may provide some clue, but the priest is murdered before he can tell the illiterate lad what they say. Worse, Crispin is fingered for the murder by the manor steward, who declares him a "wolf's head" wanted dead or alive, preferably dead. Crispin flees, and falls in with a traveling juggler. "I have no name," Crispin tells Bear, whose rough manners and appearance mask a tender heart. "No home, no kin, no place in this world." How the boy learns his true identity (he's the bastard son of the lord of the manor) and finds his place in the world makes for a rattling fine yarn. Avi's plot is engineered for maximum thrills, with twists, turns and treachery aplenty, but it's the compellingly drawn relationship between Crispin and Bear that provides the heart of this story. A page turner to delight Avi's fans, it will leave readers hoping for a sequel. Ages 8-12.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms

School Library Journal : Gr 6-9-As with Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice (Clarion, 1995), the power of a name is apparent in this novel set in 14th-century England. "Asta's son" is all the destitute, illiterate hero has ever been called, but after his mother dies, he learns that his given name is Crispin, and that he is in mortal danger. The local priest is murdered before he can tell him more about his background, and Aycliffe, the evil village steward for Lord Furnival, declares that the boy is a "wolf's head," less than human, and that he should be killed on sight. On the run, with nothing to sustain him but his faith in God, Crispin meets "Bear," a roving entertainer who has ties to an underground movement to improve living conditions for the common people. They make their way to Great Wexley, where Bear has clandestine meetings and Crispin hopes to escape from Aycliffe and his soldiers, who stalk him at every turn. Suspense heightens when the boy learns that the recently deceased Lord Furnival was his father and that Aycliffe is dead set on preventing him from claiming his title. To trap his prey, the villain captures Bear, and Crispin risks his life to save him. Avi has done an excellent job of integrating background and historical information, of pacing the plot so that the book is a page-turner from beginning to end, and of creating characters for whom readers will have great empathy. The result is a meticulously crafted story, full of adventure, mystery, and action.-Cheri Estes, Detroit Country Day Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms