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

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  11,997 Ratings  ·  1,909 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 2006)
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Apr 02, 2007 Jan rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Aug 10, 2007 Elisabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Nov 23, 2007 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 14, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Feb 04, 2008 Wealhtheow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 04, 2008 Linda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya
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
Apr 28, 2008 Carissa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Katherine Lewis
Jul 30, 2008 Katherine Lewis rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 07, 2008 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: work, 2008, us-slavery
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.

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
Nick Fagerlund
Sep 07, 2008 Nick Fagerlund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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
Alex Watkins
Jan 19, 2009 Alex Watkins rated it it was amazing  ·  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
The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation #1)
by M.T. Anderson

tbr busting 2013
pub 2006
young adult
hist fic
winter 2012/2013

This is really good, however I have had to make notes of the numerical codes for the characters.

A chilling slant on slavery and the American Civil war couched in modern spin.

4* Feed
4* The Pox Party
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
Apr 11, 2009 Dawn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
N.K. Jemisin
Jun 12, 2009 N.K. Jemisin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Well, for such a loquacious title, I had to admit that I was really expecting more from this novel (although it certainly wasn't lacking in verboseness). While I did find the idea of the Revolutionary War period seen from the eyes of a slave interesting, this story managed to be extremely boring. For 350 pages, I can pretty much sum up what happened like this:

(Spoilers ahead!)

1. Octavian is a slave during the American Revolution period.

2. During his childhood, Octavian was given a classical educ
Seth T.
Aug 19, 2010 Seth T. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 13, 2010 Ken rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, finished-in-2010
OCTAVIAN NOTHING is one nom d'appropriate, which is made-up-French for an aptly-titled book. A slave in the years leading up to the Revolution, Octavian's situation screams of irony and hypocrisy which builds as the novel progresses and he goes from being Somebody to being Nobody (where's the Dame of Amherst when you need her?). Though coined a YA book, the vocabulary and diction are daunting, or will be for the intrepid teen reader who works her way through it.

On stylistic points, the book is a
Richard Derus
Apr 18, 2012 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been revised and can now be found at Exendable Mudge Muses Aloud. What an excellent book.
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
Sofia Samatar
Aug 25, 2013 Sofia Samatar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 03, 2015 Kerrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who usually "hate" YA
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
My state legislators have spent the past session ignoring the compelling problems such as unemployment, foreclosures, steep funding cuts to schools, and lack of access to health care, issues that make lives difficult every day. Instead they addressed the non-problem of domestic unions. An amendment has been proposed,
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State
. It is expected tha
Liz BooksandStuff
May 03, 2016 Liz BooksandStuff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I was very excited to read more M.T. Anderson after I finished his book "Thirsty" and I was correct in doing so. Most people seem to have given this a bad rating, I see why, but that does not mean I agree with it.
For starters, did this remind people of the Nazis? Because I did, obviously is not as bad here, but it has the same idea, testing others to prove their inferiority and to demonstrate their right to be (insert bad word here).
This is no slavery book like you have read before, no. This on
I’m finding it difficult to talk about this book, mostly because I don’t want to seem ignorant. Let me put it this way: my job of reviewing YA is kind of easy in that most YA is extremely accessible. It’s written for teenagers, which isn’t exactly an audience that publishers count on being intelligent. So you don’t have to work hard to understand most YA. Even experimental books like Liar or How I Live Now - or, more to the point, Anderson’s previous novel, Feed - tend to be written so that b ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Tatiana rated it really liked it
Impressive, sophisticated, expansive in its scope, although not exactly a page-turner ("old-timey" language is a challenge).
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Young Adult Readers 5 31 Dec 08, 2015 04:29AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Book #39: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson 1 2 Apr 18, 2013 09:24PM  
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The story 2 40 Sep 27, 2011 04:36AM  
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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...

Other Books in the Series

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation (2 books)
  • The Kingdom on the Waves (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #2)

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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.”
“At long last, you may no longer distinguish what binds you from what is you.” 28 likes
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