Book Review: Crispin: the Cross of Lead

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books by This Author

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Crispin, the new book by award-winning author Avi, is a historical fiction story of a young boy in medieval England and his struggles to find his identity. It is also a book of universal themes.

The book does an excellent job of grounding the reader in the period. The period of history in this case is 14th Century England. Time and again, the author includes enough details so that you can almost smell the dirty streets or hear the sounds of hammer and anvil.

Crispin (or Asta's son, as he is known for the first part of the book) must find his own way in the world after his mother dies. He never knew his father was, and all he has to his name is a lead cross around his neck. The cross has writing on it, but he can't read.

Overhearing something he wasn't supposed to, Crispin discovers that he's a hunted boy and has to flee his home village. He meets up with a touring jester named Bear, and the adventures really begin.

Mixing fact (John Ball, a character in the book, really lived.) with fiction, Avi gives us a real sense of how difficult life was back then. This was a society that still had slaves. People were, for the most part, very poor or very rich. A king had subjects, and so did lords of local manors. The common people had no say in how they were treated by their lords. Through Crispin's eyes, we see all this. Our eyes--as well as his--are widened as a result.

In the end, the book is truthful, sad, thrilling, and violent (although the author insists that the violence was necessary to stay truthful to the period of history being portrayed). Crispin has both childlike and adult adventures, and most of them are not happy at all. That he survives in the end is as much due to his courage as to his luck in choosing companions and being in the right place at the right time.

The author is already at work on another book set in this same time period. Whether that book includes any of the characters in Crispin remains to be seen. But for now, pick up a copy of Crispin: The Cross of Lead and lose yourself in the lively, sad, utterly believable world of 14th-Century England.

Graphics courtesy of Hyperion Press

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