Picking up on the second book, this is the one where you see a lot of consequences and how realistic the Sisterhood are. While constant reverting thePicking up on the second book, this is the one where you see a lot of consequences and how realistic the Sisterhood are. While constant reverting the characters’ personalities in a series can be extremely frustrating (and is one of my major turn-offs), it works well here, because characters like Carmen and Tibby keep kicking themselves over their guilt for their actions and then turn around and keep acting like brats. I really like Bee’s story the best in her, you get the idea of how much of a façade she puts up and what happens when she breaks down. I loved her reconnecting with her roots and how she gets stronger. It’s a worthy sequel to the original book, and very enjoyable....more
Oh, MT Anderson. I should really read more of your work, but some times your satire just doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried reading Burger Wuss three timOh, MT Anderson. I should really read more of your work, but some times your satire just doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried reading Burger Wuss three times, and can’t make it past the first handful of pages; I don’t know why it doesn’t work for me. But like the earlier Feed, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is a book that’s more bitingly observant of what’s going on now rather than when it was originally published (2006) or even the era in which its set. I wouldn’t go so far to call it a cautionary tale, but I think Anderson does a far better job of discussing the realities of the Enlightenment thinkers and the original supporters of the Revolutionary War. And despite some anvil-dropping on the ideas of personal liberty and freedom, this is very much one young man’s coming of age and seeing the world as it is. (I mention that mainly because I had to read this originally for an American Lit I class, and there was a lot of whining about “We have to read a contemporary teen book?”* Uh yeah, got a problem with that?)
The thing I’ve always really loved about this is the style it’s written in. It’s a mix of traditional first person POV from Octavian, as he’s trying to unravel the truths behind his childhood and his mother’s past, and then slowly moves into an epistolary style throughout. It’s a really fascinating way to approach the plot, as Anderson acknowledges what the reader has probably guessed about Octavian and his mother very early on. I love Octavian’s accounts of his childhood (for as quietly horrifying as it later becomes); there’s a very lucid, dreamlike quality to his early days at the College of Lucidity. And yet, you can see what’s lurking underneath all of Octavian’s tutors and the tests and lessons that they give—you know even before the College’s sponsor changes hands that Octavian’s going to have all of this ripped away from him in the most humiliating and cruel way possible. I also love how his relationship with his mother is portrayed in these early scenes. You can see how Octavian is similarly charmed by his mother’s beauty and wit at an early age, but as time goes on, he does come to understand just how fragile she was when she was first bought. (Whenever he confesses to Goring later on, “I never even knew her name,” that line was so heart-breaking. There didn’t even need to be clarification on Octavian’s part; you know exactly who he’s talking about.)
And the way this novel is structured makes it work extremely well. (It does help a lot more if you’re familiar with 18th century novel/book style, but Anderson does a good job of making it accessible.) You get so much characterization in these small bits. I admit, I want to read the redacted pages that are scattered throughout the book—we get tiny glimpses of what might be written, but never much more than a word or two. I really love the random letters and notes from the minor characters—people that never even show up in Octavian’s proper narrative, but Anderson infuses them with so much personality in one or two sentences. For example, about three-fourths of the way in, there’s a note between two slave catchers, and one is gloating about having caught Octavian. That’s really all the note serves for the story; however, reading it, there feels like there’s a whole other story between these two extremely minor characters. It’s very rare when a writer can pull that off, and I wholeheartedly love it.
But for as great as Octavian’s personal story is, you really can’t ignore what Anderson does with the College of Lucidity and their support of the Revolutionary War. (I will try my best not to rant on current events; I will say that I was inwardly cringing at points because I have heard these arguments a lot. I kinda wanna take this book and throw it at a lot of the conservatives I have to put up with, especially when I don’t ask to hear their opinions. /done.) And I will say this about Anderson—he’s a great writer, but you can hear the anvils clanging a mile away. It’s not that he doesn’t have salient points, and I will actually say that this book works better than Feed whenever he does go off on the philosophy. (Again, see 18th century writing.) He sits down and illustrates the ideals that Mr. Gitney and his peers have, and does make them feel completely justified in their treatment of Octavian and the other slaves as they’re supporting the split from England. It’s one thing to say “Oh, these men who wanted freedom and independence for all never really considered the slaves,” but rarely does that sort of statement get the context and clarification of “No, actually, that’s how people really thought back then and yes, a lot of what they say about Octavian would have been seen as completely rational.” And then you get John Adams’s infamous “We shall have trouble in a hundred years’ hence; posterity will never forgive us” quote. (YAY HISTORY NERD.) It’s scary how rational Mr. Gitney sounds when he’s explaining the way of the world to Octavian, but mainly because that’s how people thought.
(If I have to complain about the slavery aspect, I really only have an issue with it once Private Goring gets involved. I don’t think it’s ever confirmed that Goring’s an abolitionist, because once he takes over the narrative, it really feels like Anderson’s really railing against the aforementioned hypocrisy to the point of making the Revolutionary War about slavery. It’s one of the small details that I think actually hurts the book, particularly when you’ve done a great job illustrating the hypocrisy of the Revolutionaries and not everyone is free and equal and then…the clanging of the anvils.)
But as it is, this is a very compelling read. I would actually recommend this to a lot of people who turn their nose up at young adult literature and dismiss it as immature and meebling. Anderson doesn’t talk down to his audience, nor does he assume that they’re going to know every tiny detail about the history involved. And even for people who love YA, I’d even say read it. This is historical fiction done extremely well, but it also doesn’t ignore the age of its intended audience. (And I really need to get my hands on the sequel. One day…)
*Don’t get me wrong, I loved my college track, I had awesome professors, but some of my classmates were really pretentious. When we did Harry Potter for one of my Intro to Lit classes, the bitching was even worse. ...more
Like with Fahrenheit 451, I think this is one of those books that everyone should read, and read often. Not only does is what Doctorow’s talking aboutLike with Fahrenheit 451, I think this is one of those books that everyone should read, and read often. Not only does is what Doctorow’s talking about extremely relevant, but the various messages he discusses throughout stay with you for a while after you put the book down.
He can definitely pack a punch with his writing, and definitely shows in here. The first few chapters are all well and good—teen hackers who skip school to play ARGs! Good fun times!—and then wham. The scenes of Marcus and the others trying to make their way through a decimated and attacked San Francisco managed to translate the terror and confusion of the moment, and then get ramped up whenever the DHS swoops in to detain the group. The details of “what exactly just happened” are as jumbled and confusing to the reader, and you really get the fear and claustrophobia that Marcus experiences during his detainment.
The first chapters really set up Marcus’s character. He’s cocky, thinks that he knows everything, but he can recognize his limits (physically, mentally, verbally) and when he needs to back down before things get too out of control. There’s an interesting code of honor at work; Marcus does want revenge on the DHS for what they did to him and his friend Darryl, but he’s not willing to let anyone else suffer the same fate or worse. And while a book about hacking, on the surface, seems boring (because hacking is nothing like the media portrays it), Marcus’s love of it shines through the prose. He’s well-informed, and the many (many, many, many) passages about hacking or security or technology show off his love of all of those things. (More on that in a bit.)
I like the Harajuku Fun Madness team, but they get dropped from the plot before the events escalate. The reasons why Van and Jolu leave Marcus behind are extremely understandable, but I would have liked to get a better grasp on their characters before they disappeared for the last 200 or so pages. Darryl gets a little more characterization, though it’s largely through flashbacks and Marcus’s narration. Ange is a weak character—she feels like she’s only there as the designated love interest, a m1k3y fangirl to spur on Marcus. She’s got some good moments, but there’s not much that she contributes to the plot. (Actually, on my first read, I thought she was going to be revealed as a double agent, because her dialogue and action do go for that theory.)
My favorite thing about the book is sheer amount of information on technology and security. While most authors would info-dump everything into the plot, Doctorow manages to work the relevant information into Marcus’s narration without dragging on for pages. It’s also presented in layman’s terms, so I actually had an idea of “Okay, so that’s how this works.” (To point, I actually did look up computer building a little while after finishing the book.) It’s engaging and doesn’t bore me to death.
But while the book focuses heavily on tech and security, the main crux of the book is the idea of civil liberties and rights and how they’re affected in times of national security. I agree with the central message—freedom shouldn’t be something that can be compromised. However—and this is my one nitpick of the book—I didn’t feel like there was an equal argument for the side of the DHS. We get a sympathetic view with Marcus’s dad and Masha, but everyone else who agrees with the DHS and their measures is painted as an incompetent strawman who just sprouts back propaganda. I’m not saying that the reader has to agree with the other side, just a sympathetic look at it would have been better rounded.
Still, I argue that this should be essential reading and with a lot of discussion. You don’t necessarily have to agree with Marcus or his actions, but it is something to think about. ...more