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Richie's Picks: CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD
on October 3, 2002
CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD is a thrilling and endearing tale, unquestionably my favorite book of Avi's from the bunch I've read. (This is, in fact, his fiftieth book.) CRISPIN is set in 1300s England. Not only is the story steeped in the history of feudalistic medieval Britain, but Avi brings that history to life most vividly without ever once hitting you over the head with it.
"Time was the great millstone, which ground us to dust like kerneled wheat. The Holy Church told us where we were in the alterations of the day, the year, and in our daily toil. Birth and death alone gave distinction to our lives, as we made the journey between the darkness from whence we had come to the darkness where we were fated to await Judgment Day."
CRISPIN is the name of the 13-year-old peasant main character; although, the only name he's known for himself is "Asta's Son." That is until his mother dies, and in his blinding grief he stumbles upon a secret meeting in the woods between John Aycliffe--the steward of the manor--and a wealthy stranger. In a flash he finds himself the target of a plot in which he is falsely accused of a theft and declared a "wolf's head," allowing anyone to kill him on sight. On his way "out of town" the village priest tells the boy his real name, tells him to hide out for 24 hours until he can round up some provisions, and promises to reveal some more vital information the next day. Then the priest proceeds to get his throat slit and Crispin is on the run with the theft AND the priest's murder hanging over him. What happens to him is one of those stories that is so well crafted that you can taste and smell the settings, as well as hear the sinister growl in Aycliffe's throat, as you anxiously wait for something to go right for Crispin.
While trying not to reveal any more of the story, I'll also tell you that there is a character in here who I find darn near as lovable as Hagrid.
I hope that Avi is contemplating a sequel to this one--the end came way too soon for me.