Avi is a prolific writer of books for young adults. This historical fiction title is set in New York City during 1893. Maks Geless lives with his parents and siblings in a fourth floor walkup tenement building. There is no indoor plumbing. Maks must lug water up all four floors. The privies (outhouses) are also outside. Money is very tight. To help the family make ends meet with their bills, Maks is a newspaper boy for The World newspaper. He makes only pennies by hawking his papers near the elevated train station, but every little bit helps the family. Bruno is the leader of the Pug Uglies gang. They have targeted the newsboys--beating them up, stealing their papers, taking their hard earned money. When Maks is attacked by Bruno, a street girl named Willa fends off the gang with a large stick. Without Willa's help Maks would have been beaten severely. Maks realizes that Willa is an orphan living on the streets. He brings her back to their apartment and the family welcomes her.
When Maks' sister is accused of stealing a very expensive watch from a room that she was cleaning at the exclusive Waldorf Hotel, Maks' immigrant parents aren't much help in understanding how the legal system works in New York. With Willa's help, Maks goes to the Tombs--a holding area for prisoners waiting to be sentenced and learns that Emma is very frightened, living in deplorable conditions and very hungry. Maks and Willa end up befriending a detective who gives them ideas of how to prove his sister's innocence.
Will they be able to stay out of Bruno's way? Will the Pug Uglies stake out their apartment building making it impossible to do any detective work? Read this title to find out how difficult life was living in New York in the 1890's if you are poor and from an immigrant family.