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The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation #1)

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  9,961 ratings  ·  1,720 reviews
Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots battled to win liberty while African slaves were ent ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Candlewick Press (first published January 1st 2006)
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Friends, it would be difficult to overstate my vexation upon the finishing of this allegedly excellent tome. In an effort to emulate Mr. Sharp, I shall essay to enumerate the difficulties that beset me during those long days in which I did traverse the pages of the manuscript. A) My head ached in a most alarming fashion. B) A strange desire to hurl myself off a bridge, or some such other edifice of sufficient moment, possessed me.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this title, unless the pote
Seth Hahne
I'm rather surprised that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing should be marketed to a young adult audience. Surprised and a little bit saddened. Saddened because I think the book deserves better and surprised for similar reasons.

Octavian Nothing deserves an audience built of those who are thoughtful, empathetic human beings. And this is not the typical and immediate description by which one would first describe teenagers. Certainly there are exceptions, but those are young adults whom we wo
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
This review has been revised and can now be found at Exendable Mudge Muses Aloud. What an excellent book.
Nov 23, 2007 Chris rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Octavian Nothing is a slave boy owned by a group of rationalist philosophers living in Revolutionary War-era Boston. Slowly, we learn that Octavian's upbringing, characterized by a rigorous classical education and musical training (in which he excels) regular measurment of such bodily functions as his bowel movemements, are all part of a disturbing experiment to determine whether or not people of African descent are inferior to whites. Octavian comes to realize this as well, and in the course of ...more

Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2007)
2007 Printz Honor

I read this book in early February of this year, but have been too timid to review it. Now, with my review of The Obama Revolution by Alan Schaffer-Kennedy being posted tomorrow, I thought it was a good time to throw my two cents into the dialogue of race and literature.

The first volume of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the story of a young boy in 1760s Boston. He
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nick Fagerlund
In broad genre terms, it's a slave story, but it's a consummately weird one that flickers in and out of other genres and spheres of influence, the most notable encroachments being on the Gothic novel\* and the heroic literature of the American Revolution. The idea I keep turning around in my head is that it's in a complicated and fairly aggressive dialogue with some long-term trends in YA--correct me if you remember differently, but didn't most of the Revolutionary War novels largely ignore the ...more

I finally finished this on audiobook. I was wondering if I would have enjoyed this more if I had read it, but I don't think I would have. I think that it didn't help that this was an audiobook, and one of my complaints about the book is that it goes on and on incessantly about crap that doesn't really do anything for the plot or the enhancement of the characters. And the over-the-top period language drove me crazy by the end. I would have liked it better if all of the third person narration part
At first I didn't know what to think of this book. I was horrified but strangely compelled to continue reading this tale of a slave boy raised in an experimental fashion. By the end, my heart was completely captured and the following passage struck me in particular.

“They told me of substance and form; they told me of matter, of its consistency as a fluxion of minute, swarming atomies, as Democritus had writ; they told me of shape and essence; they told me of the motion of light, that it was the
Aug 10, 2007 Elisabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: kids over 12 or so, adults
This is an amazing book--an exploration of some of the contradictory philosophies behind the American Revolution and a compelling coming-of-age tale at the same time. Dark and difficult, but well worth the attention.
Katherine Lewis
Jul 30, 2008 Katherine Lewis rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: older teens with a patience for more challenging texts/ adults wiling to dabble in YA fiction
Recommended to Katherine by: Printz winner

Okay, for those of you have read M.T. Anderson's OTHER fabulous book Feed, Octavian Nothing proves to be very interesting on a thematic comparison level. Feed is, of course, set in the distant future and depicts a very Brave New World-ish, anti-utopian warning about where we're going as a culture (and it ain't pretty, folks). Octavian Nothing, on the other hand, is set in New England during America's Revolutionary War. Both books are written in the style and vocabulary of the thoughts of its pro
There are some excellent books about slavery in the US that "tell all the truth but tell it slant." That is, they depict the institution in some other way than through its archetypal manifestation in the public imaginary: a large white-owned Southern plantation in the several decades prior to the Civil War. This is one of them. (Another is The Known World.) Here we have a young African prince (or so his mother tells him) being raised by the wonderfully-named Novanglian College of Lucidity, a gro ...more
Jan 14, 2008 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults and young adults
Recommended to Kate by: my mother
Oh my god. I started this at my sister's house one night, then had to finish the pointless "Stolen Boy", so I just got back to it yesterday. I could not put the thing down. Each of the four sections was so intense and exciting and terrifying. And FINALLY: an author who messes with form in a minimalist way that has real purpose and expression. Take that, Dave Eggers! Take that, Jonathan Safron Foer or whoever! This book broke my heart every page. It deserves every award it has won and then some.
Allison (The Allure of Books)
This was an amazing book in so many ways, I'm so glad I picked it up. I understand that it is classified as YA...but believe me, it would more than hold it's own in the adult section as well. There are 4 sections, most of the first, second and fourth are the "manuscripts of the boy Octavian", and the language is rich and very much of the eighteenth century. Have a dictionary handy--I sure needed one quite often.

I was touched and outraged throughout all of Octavian's actual memoirs, but I thought
sweet jesus, i have never been so anxious for a book to be done as i was with this one. i listened to the audiobook and it just seemed interminable! ugh! the language is very…. gothic and high and oh, i just hated it! here’s the thing i’ve decided about m.t. anderson. he has really great premises to his books (like in “feed” where it’s in the future and everyone’s brains are jacked into the internet, or “game of sunken places” where two boys have to play a “game” to save the world, or this one w ...more
I could write two very different reviews of Octavian Nothing. There's the one where I gush and gush and practically drool over it - the raw emotion! the unexpected humor! Private Ev's letters! Then there's the one where I sing its technical praises - how finely it creates the atmosphere of another time, and the use of language, and how it is a fine, fine example of the powers of historical fiction, and how Mr. Anderson does not underestimate the abilities of the young adult, but rather shows the ...more
Apr 02, 2007 Jan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
This book should have won the Printz award. The writing is exceptional and the story is utterly compelling.

Octavian is an African prince, who lives in Colonial Boston at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Dressed in silks, educated and pampered by strange scientists who care for him and his mother, Octavian seems to lack for nothing. Until he discovers that there is one thing denied him—his freedom.

This amazing and unique story begins as an allegorical fable of the Enlightenment and conclud
This book lives up to its title: it really is an astonishing, passionate, beautifully written novel. To talk of the plotline would be, I think, to spoil it: not because much of it is not readily apparent to the reader as it progresses, but because how Anderson unfolds the tale, how he shows the depths of Octavian's repressed trauma and reveals the hypocrisy of those around him, the blindness of racial and gender privilege. It's a fantastic, fantastic reworking of the familiar narrative of the Am ...more
Wish I could give this review the full treatment it deserves, but it'll take hours to write...

I pretty much dismiss the entire YA genre. I've tried Twilight, and all the paranormal crap like Beautiful Creatures, Cassandra Clare's dreck etc just do not interest me. The books that deal with teenage problems ... I'm an adult, I certainly don't want to relive it.

But what I am is a historical fiction junkie. Put a story in another era and it immediately becomes more interesting (perhaps not GOOD, but
This was a completely extraordinary book - thanks for sending it, Lacy! I'm struck again by the question of what exactly makes a YA adult book a YA book. Nothing in here, whether it's writing, topic, or style, seems "YA" to me - is it simply judged so because of the age of the central protagonist? Is it a marketing choice?

The book's structure captivate me from the very start, as the title page and chapter headings so beautiful recreate the style and form of eighteenth-century American pamphlets.
Alex Watkins
Jan 19, 2009 Alex Watkins rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non crazy-racists, crazy racists so that they learn
I was totally surprised by this book, having seen it about a million times at the library, and seeing it never get picked up no matter how much I put it on display, I didn't have that much interest in it. But it has a power that I completely didn't expect. It riled many emotion for me especially anger, and the book left me very angry at people in the past for being so fricken racist. Yay for the present. The book is written from the point of view mostly of an extremely erudite slave, and so the ...more
When we got to my bedchamber, her smile was gone. She helped me off with my frock-coat and sat me down. "Tonight," she said, "a reading from the Book of Psalms." And she drew down my Bible from the shelf, leafed through with her thin fingers, and began to recite:

"By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion. On the willows there, we hung up our harps, for they that carried us away captive required of us songs, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How can w
This is a brilliant book. Truly, truly brilliant—full of important ideas and hard truths about slavery and freedom, and about the essential core of what America was built on, and for. Furthermore, it’s incredibly well-written, with not one but several unique narrative voices, and a wonderful flair for subtle, chilling symbolism.

It is also so fucking painful I could barely get through it.

The reality of Octavian’s situation—as slave, as experiment—is so brutal that I had to force myself to keep re
Sofia Samatar
The cover of this thing is studded with medals, so you really don't need me to tell you how good it is. Anderson follows Octavian, a young slave during the Revolutionary War. The language is delightful--like a crisper James Boswell--and the story is harrowing. I also love the history of how the book and its sequel came to be, as reported by the New York Times: "In 1975, from a canoe floating in the Concord River, the young M. T. Anderson and his parents watched a bicentennial re-enactment of the ...more
Lars Guthrie
"The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" is nothing less than astonishing. One of the most complex yet electrifying and involving young adult novels I have ever read, it truly makes history come alive, while giving a voice to African-Americans, enslaved at a time when their owners (and they) were fighting for personal freedom in the American Revolution. It also sounds a cautionary note about "rational" thinking that resonates in our time, in the twisted employment of Scientific Revolution/Enli ...more
For me, the power of this book was slow to build and I was hovering in the 3-star range during the first half of it. But once I broke through Octavian's matter-of-fact reporting and really connected with him, I was in. I was grateful for Private Goring's letters. His optimism, naivete, and outsider perspective on Octavian added another layer to this complex story. And I loved Dr. Trefusis' actions at the end.

To call this well-researched is a major understatement. I've been simultaneously (and c
I expected more. Maybe I was distracted with life or maybe I'm just kind of a cold person but I never felt that connected to the main character, possibly due to the intentionaly scientific nature of the dialogue - ?

I also felt a little drudgery when the pro-slavery people were elaborating on why their position was what it was. I was bored, and felt a little like "That argument again?!" (it's worth noting that this book is marketed as YA and such may be the first time kids are hearing these persp
Morgan F
This book was intriguing to be sure, but not exactly entertaining. In order to be absorbed by this story, you have to be willing to invest the time, and be prepared with a dictionary, because, trust me, there are a lot of big words. The concept was certainly original, and is worth a try. When you've finished it, you put it down thinking you've accomplished something.
I originally gave this book 3 stars, because I thought I liked it, but after giving it time to simmer, I have decided I don't like it at all. It's an interesting idea, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth about Anderson and the novel.
N.K. Jemisin
A hard one to read, since it wasn't so much a coming-of-age as a descent into hell. I was literally shocked into tears by the middle pages (you'll know which ones). Going to have to rebuild some emotional energy before I tackle book 2.
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Matthew Tobin Anderson (M. T. Anderson), (1968- ) is an author, primarily of picture books for children and novels for young adults. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His picture books include Handel Who Knew What He Liked; Strange Mr. Satie; The Serpent Came to Gloucester; and Me, All Alone, at the End of the World. He has written such young adult books as Thirsty, Burger Wuss, Feed, The
More about M.T. Anderson...
Feed Thirsty The Kingdom on the Waves (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #2) Whales on Stilts (Pals in Peril, #1) The Game of Sunken Places (Norumbegan Quartet, #1)

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“...they told me of color, that it was an illusion of the eye, an event in the perceiver's mind, not in the object; they told me that color had no reality; indeed, they told me that color did not inhere in a physical body any more than pain was in a needle.

And then they imprisoned me in darkness; and though there was no color there, I still was black, and they still were white; and for that, they bound and gagged me.”
“I do not know what I regret. I sit with my pen, and cannot find an end to that sentence.” 24 likes
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