Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Book Review: Octavian Nothing

I read my children's books. In fact, I often read them before they do. Not to censor, quite the opposite: If I find a book to be particularly compelling, I will recommend, cajole, bribe to get them to read it. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson is precisely one of these books.

Marketed for the "young adult" audience, Octavian Nothing claims to be for ages 14 and up. I find this to be extremely accurate as it's scope might be a bit much for younger readers. It is an interesting blend of historical fiction, maybe science fiction, gothic fantasy - in terms of genre it truly defies description.

Octavian Nothing is a teenage boy growing up in pre-Revolution Boston in a household of scientists and philosophers. He wants for nothing, dressing in the finest silks and receiving a classical education of science, literature, Latin and Greek, and violin. Eventually Octavian ventures behind a forbidden door and realizes that he is the subject of a grand experiment that makes him suddenly question his place in the world.

It is incredibly hard to review this book without the inevitable spoilers - one of which is key to the plot. The reader realizes just who and what Octavian is as he, himself, does. They learn the true nature of society along with him as he escapes the household and joins up with an American Patriot militia. Within are the recurring themes of national and personal freedom, science and myth, and the underlying atrocities and hypocrisy of the elite of society. This book is brilliantly written, effectively changing point of view from Octavian himself to that of a fellow soldier in the militia. At times it is amusing, at others horrific, heart wrenching, and truly touching.

This book will make you (and your teens) rethink the meanings of patriotism, freedom, racism and privilege and the consequences or triumph of individual action.

Read it.

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