Monday, February 15, 2010

Male Monday: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume I, The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson 2006
Candlewick Press

Rating: 5/5

IQ "He replied, 'What is in my Heart is not simple'.
& I says, 'Then you han't listened.'
& He says, 'I listen, & cannot understand its Speech.'
& I says, 'Then it ain't your Heart you hear. '" Private Evidence Goring pg. 260

I can't describe this book. If I do, it will give something away. So if you haven't heard of this book, read it. If you want to read this book and something is stopping you, read it now. If you've already read this book, what did you think?

Octavian is being raised by a group of philosophers and scientists. He lives in luxury, with the best of clothes and food. His mother is charming, an African princess and treated like royalty. Octavian is happy in his home but he does not understand what his guardians are studying and he wants to find out. He searches the house and the answer and journey that the answer sends him on is truly horrifying.

M.T. Anderson is a truly gifted author, the way he describes things is just sigh worthy, starting on the first page, "I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees. I recall, in the orchard behind the house, orbs of flames rising through the black boughs and branches; they climbed, spirituous, and flickered out." You can turn to any random page and find an example of language being used beautifully, "The breeze itself was warm; the islands soft with moss; the loons calling melancholy in forgotten bays, and Life in all its operations seemed unspeakably generous." pg.95 However, I do think the way language is used in this book can make it a difficult read. The words are true to the 18th century (both in spelling and meaning) and references are made to classic Greek and Latin writings and events. The book is long and I imagine it would be a most frustrating read for a reader who is forced to read the book and continuously stumbles over incomprehensible words.

I also think this book did an excellent job of detailing most of the worries people had in the days leading up to the American Revolutionary War (the book ends in 1775). It shows the attitudes of the Tories, the Patriots and slaves. The events chronicled will make you cringe. The pox party concept is absolutely disgusting and the author describes the smallpox disease in a nauseating way. And it gets worse. But through it all, I was unable to put the book down.

The story is mostly told through Octavian writing in a journal, but it is also told through letters, stories, Psalms and public announcements. at one point, Octavian crosses out six pages of writing, all the reader sees is black ink. The result is heart-wrenching because you can imagine what has happened and you feel deeply for Octavian. An issue that is never explained is why the book is called Octavian Nothing. Octavian's last name is Gitney. My guess is that Octavian did not want to be associated with the last name of Gitney and felt that he never truly belonged to any family thus resulting in him naming himself Nothing.

This is historical fiction at its finest; authentic, captivating and more than a little appalling (the details described not the way the book is written). I'm eager to read the sequel and I think this book is a must-read even if you don't like historical fiction, Octavian's story is compelling and will suck you in. High school and up.

This is perhaps one of my shortesr reviews, but all I can say is READ THIS BOOK.


  1. I enjoyed this book enough to pick up the sequel, but overall, it wasn't a favorite. I also thought the language was difficult, especially for the YA designation, and Octavian didn't come alive as a character for me. But the books raised really interesting issues about the hypocrisy of the founding of America.

  2. I've definitely heard of this one, just never had that push to go pick it up and read it. You're very convincing, has anyone told you that?

  3. I love this book. Have you gotten around to the sequel? Equally brilliant. And you should SO get that other Anderson novel, Feed.

  4. I've read Feed and loved it. I rec it to 8th grade boys every year. I have this on my shelves. Now I hope to read it this summer!

  5. @Tia-I totally agree, this book really makes a point of illustrating the hypocriscy of the founding fathers and the Patriots. It makes me wonder, if I was a slave back then would I have fought for America that did not promise my freedom or Britain that did? I like to think I would fight for America anyway, but I don't know... Yes the language can be difficult, but I think it's well worth giving a try. I'm a historical fiction nut so I loved the book :)

    @Michelle-Haha considering how this review was so short and sparse, I'm really happy to hear that I convinced you :D

    @Dannie-No I haven't read the sequel yet =/ It's in my tbr pile though! I just have to read 2 other books before it and then I will return to Octavian! Feed sounds so good, it's definitely a book I will have to do an off-color review on.

    @KB-READ IT! hehee. I want to read Feed so badly now, everyone's recommending it =)

  6. Ari, you reviews will make me quit school so I can spend my days reading.

  7. I recently purchased FEED, but you've got me pretty interested in this M.T. Anderson title!

  8. The second one is even better, in my opinion :)

  9. I loved this book, and I loved "Feed." You're so right about the quality of the writing. Thanks for giving this book more coverage!

  10. @Nathalie-I feel the same way about your reviews and some other book bloggers. just looking at my TBR pile makes me want to skip school and read.

    @Erika-That's the goal :) I'll be looking for your Feed review, everyone is raving about it.

    @melissa-Great! I can start reading the 2nd one in about 2 weeks and I can't wait =D

    @thestonebow-It's my pleasure. I think this book totally deserves but it has a slew of honors so I think it may be on a lot of people's radars.

  11. I'm late on this, but I loved both of the Octavian books. They were described to me in the most glowing terms, which usually puts me off because then I expect too much. But holy cow, are they good! I'm on a quest to get as many people as possible to read them. Even though it has a lot of honors, it's in this weird place where it's a big and challenging YA, so some teens don't want to try it. And, of course, because it's YA, a lot of adults won't ever give it a try. :(

  12. Je suis en retard sur ce point, mais j'ai bien aimé les deux livres d'Octave. Ils ont été décrits pour moi dans les termes les plus lumineux, qui met généralement hors moi parce que je en attendre trop. Mais vache sacrée, sont-ils bons! Je suis dans une quête pour obtenir le plus grand nombre possible de les lire. Même si elle a beaucoup d'honneurs, c'est dans ce lieu étrange où il est un grand et difficile YA, de sorte que certains adolescents ne veulent pas l'essayer. Et, bien sûr, parce que c'est YA, beaucoup d'adultes ne sera plus jamais lui donner un essai.

  13. I'm looking forward to reading this book! I've heard the prose can be challenging for reasons you mentioned. I think it helps knowing these things when I pick up a book so I know how much attention I might have to give to it. I enjoy American history so this book sounds right for me.


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