I was hesitant to read this book, mostly because I figured the author must be pretentious to use only one name (Avi), a trend only suitable for true superstars (Madonna, Cher, Bono, etc.). Add to that the cover art, which undoubtedly screams "Adventure story!", I wasn't too interested. And yes, it was an adventure story, and it may have enev been abit pretentious. But it was pretty good.
The story of Crispin and his cross of lead takes place in the dark ages, and for this reason I kept having flashbacks to middle school, when in one week we covered 1000 years by saying that the nobles ruled everything and were tyrants and most everybody else worked for pennies and had no way of getting out of a crappy situation because they didn't really know they were getting gypped. Then sometime around 1500 people started questioning authority (religion), and the renaissance began. I felt like the book did a good job of portraying that dark age mentality, where everyone praises god a thousand times a day and just goes along with whatever god plans for them, when really it's the nobility who's making the decisions.
Through the story, Crispin is running from his nobleman who's trying to kill him, but we don't really know why (unless we caught the clues and figured it out in the first few chapters, like I did). He comes across a fool/spy who becomes first his master, then his friend, and who teaches him about freedom. Basically, he tells Crispin to have an opinion and make a choice, and Crispin finally takes to it. It's enlightenment, you see.
I guess that's why I liked the book. It wasn't just about a kid running from the evil authority, and the secret of who he really is, but about enlightenment versus tyrrany. It was very effective. I think if I were a middle school teacher, I'd assign this book.