Emily Upham’s Revenge is a lesser known work by the beloved author Avi. Read in one sitting, it a delightful read with easily accessible language and a sort of innocence about its characters.
The main character, Emily Upham, is a well-brought-up young lady, 8-10 years of age, raised in a large home in Boston in 1875. Her father is nearly bankrupt and leaves his wife and daughter to go “get some money,” vowing not to come home without it. Emily’s mother becomes ill, unable to cope with her husband’s apparent desertion. She goes to stay with her sister while she sends Emily by train to stay with her rich uncle, a banker and Emily’s paternal uncle.
Things do not go as planned when Emily is met at the train station not by her uncle, but by Seth Marple, a mishevious (but good-hearted) country boy in overalls, bare feet, and a whole bunch of trouble. He misleads Emily into thinking she has arrived in a “bandit town” and offers to protect her, sheltering her in his hideout in the woods. He does not tell Emily that he is hiding from the townspeople himself, introducing himself as Deadwood Dick, his favorite character in the adventure novels he reads.
In an attempt to achieve his own escape from the town of North Brookfield and help Emily return to her mother in Boston Seth hatches a plot to rob the bank (owned by Emily’s uncle) and steal train fare for the two of them. Things go awry for both Seth and Emily when they stumble onto someone else’s plot to rob the same bank.
Although some plot developments are predictable, the ending is not what you might imagine and is immensely satisfying for the reader. By turns funny, exciting and sometimes touching this is a wonderful story told my a master (with amusing illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky) and well worth the read!
I would definitely recommend it as an independent read for 3rd – 5th graders, as a read-aloud for even younger as long as it is done at home and not in a large group. The reason for this is that the word “damned” is used twice in the book by Emily’s father. Although she is appropriately horrified by his use of “that word” and is positive all the bad things which occurred after he used it happened because he spoke it, there are, understandably, some parents and teachers who do not wish to read the word aloud to children–or to have children read it themselves– without an opportunity to discuss the word and its usage in daily life beforehand.