Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol. I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Book: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol. I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Rating: A

For: Dewey's Books Challenge and The Printz Project (Printz Honor 2007... winner of various other awards also)

After hearing about this book (and it's sequel) forever, I finally read it! And wow, I don't think I can find words to describe the level of emotion and intensity it accomplishes. I went into it knowing that there would be hard parts, as in, descriptions and situations very difficult to read about, and there absolutely were. Yet, these parts are necessary to portray this particular time in our history.

The story is about a slave boy, Octavian, who at first glance it seems is living quite a nice life style with his mom and owners. Behind the scenes though, it's another story. The setting is the Boston area just at the onset of the Revolutionary War. When Octavian has had enough of his "sheltered" lifestyle, he of course runs away and ends up in the middle of the battle for our country's freedom. Quite ironic for a black boy, stolen from his own country, who has no hope for freedom no matter the outcome.

The writing style was captivating I thought. First, it's from Octavian's point of view, and since he's been schooled and taught in the classics, it's very formal. Then we get the story from various letters, especially from one soldier who befriends Octavian, and we swing the complete opposite way and are treated to the terrible grammar and punctuation of the time. The story is also told with various newspaper clippings and other such snippets of the time. I love stuff like that.
And the words themselves are just amazing and totally convey the intense emotion going on. Yep, I love stuff like that.

Of course, it was another of those books that ended right at time when you feel like screaming "no!! Not now!!" But this time I don't have to wait for months, or a year, I can just grab the next one right away. And I understand this one is even better.

Beware, the gritty and uncomfortable situations that you can imagine slaves (and soldiers) enduring. Recommended for older readers.

P.S. Don't you love that gigantic title. What a mouthful! And I so wish that Dewey's page was still accessible so I could remember what she had to say about this book and link to it. Oh, well.

Other Reviews:

Updated to add:

Thanks to Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading, who pointed out to me that if I was subscribed to Dewey's blog, I can still find her reviews, and so I can now post what Dewey thought about this book:

This first volume of
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing was a Printz Honor Book and won a National Book Award for Young People. But to me, it didn’t really seem like a book for teens. I haven’t seen or heard of any of the teens I know reading it. I think that if I had picked it up as a teen, the formal language would have put me off right away, though as an adult, I enjoyed it. This seems to me to be one of those books that adults on prize committees choose because they love it rather than because it’s a book that would really appeal to teens.

The horrifying surprise revealed in this book, which is what makes it special, in my opinion, comes deep in the story; I was actually ready to give it up as going nowhere when this astonishing secret became known to the main character. I am rarely as shocked as teen readers are expected to be by the surprises in books for young adults, but this one completely floored me. It immediately changed everything I had just read; I wanted to stop, go back to the beginning, and start all over with my new knowledge.

Still, I probably wouldn’t recommend this to any of the teens I know, not even those as enthralled by books as I am. I would definitely recommend it to adults who are interested in American history and who enjoy complex ethical issues. Volume two will be published this fall, and I intend to read it. I have Anderson’s other novel,
Feed , on TBR Mountain, and I’m interested in comparing it to these two books, since it sounds remarkably different. For one thing, it’s meant to be futuristic as opposed to historical fiction.

You can read chapter one
here. If you do read the excerpt, or if you’ve read the book, would you let me know whether you agree with my uncertainty that most teens would be drawn into the story?

Reading Dewey's thoughts on this book reminded me of what our favorite John Green also had to say about this book, and it's companion Vol. II.
His thoughts here on his blog if you are interested. (Basically, he thinks teens CAN handle this book!)


  1. this does sound good. How many are in the serious? Three?

  2. I want to read this one, too. But for some reason it looks a little intimidating to me.

  3. I need to read this one and the sequel for the Printz Project but I've shied away from it a bit because of the graphicness you discuss. Ah well. Hopefully I'll get through it okay.

  4. I was even more impressed with the second volume. I definitely had a harder time with the first (reviewed here.

  5. I got this one for Christmas a couple of years ago and have been meaning to get to it. You've inspired me to move it up on the list. :)



Related Posts with Thumbnails