Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by MT Anderson (7/81)

Category: National Book Award for Young People's Literature (1/9)

Well that title certainly is a mouthful. I do enjoy the fact that Anderson is not afraid to give his book a long title, if that's the title it deserves. And Octavian certainly has an astonishing life. In this book, the story is mostly told through "testimony" that is written in first-person by Octavian himself. But there is a great middle section where the story is told in letters, and we see what happens to Octavian during that time period through someone else's eyes. Octavian was raised, along with his very young mother, by a group of scientist/philosophers who refer to themselves as the Novanglian College of Lucidity. All of the men there are known by numbers, rather than their names, whereas Octavian, and his mother, Cassiopeia, are not. It takes Octavian (and the reader) some time to realize that he and his mother are actually parts of some of the experiments that the men of the college are studying. He also eventually learns that they are slaves, and are owned by 03-01, or Mr. Gitney, the man who runs the place.
This book takes place right before the Revolutionary War, in Boston. War actually breaks out during the course of the book, and Octavian learns that freedom means different things depending on who you are talking to and where you come from.
This was a fascinating, very quick read, and I am looking forward to reading the second book. Anderson's descriptions, and his storytelling, both through Octavian and through the letters, are intriguing, and even more so often because he is one of those authors that leaves a lot for the reader to fill in for themselves. It's more immersive than I would have thought, and I wonder how it will end for Octavian.

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