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Unstoppable Octobia May

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Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special - and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a "wise soul." Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia's parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That's when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She's unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are "seen, not heard," Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?

And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist?

288 pages, Hardcover

First published September 30, 2014

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About the author

Sharon G. Flake

29 books557 followers
Sharon G. Flake is the author of five books, The Skin I'm In (1998), Money Hungry (2002), Begging for Change (2003), Who Am I Without Him? Short Stories About Boys and the Girls in Their Lives (2004), Bang! (Sept. 2005), and her latest novel The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street (2007).

Her work is used in public and private schools around the nation, from elementary to high school, and is often required reading in colleges for students in education, child development, children's literature and English writing programs. Beyond that, her work is also a favorite among adults and adult book club readers.

Flake and her work have won numerous awards and recognitions including: Best Books for Young Adult Readers; Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers; the New York Public Library Top Ten Books for the Teen Age; 2005 featured author in the Ninth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators; 2005 Capitol Choices; Noteworthy Books for Children; 2004 Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Book; 2004 Texas Lone Star Award for Top Ten Books; 2002, 2004 Coretta Scott King Honor Award; Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Grant; 2004 Bank Street Best of the Year; 2004 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book; 2004 CCBC Choices; Booklist Top Ten Fantasy Book; 2004 Booklist Top Ten Romance Novels for Youth; 2004 Booklist Editor's Choice Award; 2003 Detroit Free LIbrary Author of the Year; 1999 YWCA Racial Justice Award; 1999 Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Award and more.

Flake's work appears on the Anti-Defamation League's website which stresses the use of children's literature to help educators address the problem of bullying in schools.

Flake was born in Philadelphia, PA, but has resided in Pittsburgh, PA with her daughter for many years. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in English. For several years she was a youth counselor for a foster care agency, after which she spent 18 years working at the University of Pittsburgh in public relations. She has written numerous articles for national publications. Prior to having her first book published, she wrote for approximately 15 years.

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5 stars
127 (18%)
4 stars
180 (26%)
3 stars
236 (35%)
2 stars
102 (15%)
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24 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 166 reviews
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,056 reviews1,861 followers
August 30, 2015
Vampires are not the nicest people. Maybe that happens when you live forever and don't get enough sun. So when I pass Mr. Davenport's bedroom door, I tiptoe, making my bare feet quiet as cotton balls tossed on the floor. Vampires can hear your thoughts and dreams, don't you know. So I'm not surprised when Mr. Davenport comes out wanting to kill me. I was dead once myself. I shouldn't let him scare me. But right now, I could wet my britches.

This book wasn't very good.

Octobia May is a 10-year-old girl living in Pennsylvania in 1953. She is convinced that the evil-looking tenant staying in her aunt's boarding house is a vampire. But in truth, he might be something far more sinister.

This book has major problems.

I really wanted to like it. I mean look at the cover! Pure awesomeness! A black girl living in her aunt's boarding house, convinced a tenant is a vampire and trying to solve the mystery in 1953? Yes, please! Feminism, racism, antisemitism, etc. etc. all being discussed? Sounds wonderful!

But it's not. Here are the problems:

1.) The book is preachy and it talks down to children. Now, everyone knows I am a big believer of discussing race, women's rights, anti-Semitism, etc. etc. with children. But no child wants to read a book that is preaching to him or her! How boring! And this book just piles on the lectures.

I imagine myself writing. Surrounded by lots of books all written by me. It's a silly thought, my friend Jonah thinks. I'd better satisfy myself with being a wife when I grow up, he sometimes tells me. Taking in laundry, drawing my husband's bath.

I mean, come on. Can we be a bit more subtle?

"Freedom is something people try to give you sparingly. 'Cause once you got it, you do with your life what you will."

My parents volunteer with the NAACP, so they feel that way, too. But at our house, girls are the least free Negroes. Mother and Father say there will be a time and a place for us girls to get everything that's ours. Auntie believes that the time for girls to be free is now.

This kind of heavy-handedness just goes on and on and on and on.

Auntie's temper shows sometimes. "Colored or white. Married or an old maid. A woman in this world can't play banjo to nobody's fiddle. She's got to be her own one-and-only true self, Octobia May."

You get the idea. Now imagine all these little lectures ALSO coming at you regarding racism, anti-Semitism, being proud of who you are instead of "passing for white," liking your hair even if it isn't "good hair," etc. etc. etc. The book is like one big lecture. I really wish it could have gotten all these messages across in the course of the story. Subtly. Making children's minds work in a way that is more organic and natural.

All these messages are GREAT messages - don't get me wrong. But no one reads a "fun detective novel" to get schooled. It's a drag. It's not like the author CAN'T be more subtle and effective. She absolutely can.

It took me a long time to recognize him for what he is. I think that's because Mr. Davenport is colored like me. In comic books and movies, the vampires are all white. Now I know the truth - vampires do not discriminate. Any race is welcome to join their club.

This book would be so much better if she weaved her messages about race, women's rights, anti-Semitism, and other issues into the plot as shown in the paragraph above. Instead, she has the adult MCs - like Auntie Shuma and Mrs. Loewenthal - spew whole paragraphs that teach us about what we're supposed to think. It's annoying. No one likes being talked down to.

And that isn't the only problem with this book. Oh, no. There's more.

2.) The book is poorly written. Oftentimes you are reading it and you can't make heads or tails of what is going on. Especially during the action scenes or exciting scenes.

I couldn't tell who was doing what to whom. And it's not only the action scenes that were the problem. I couldn't tell where the characters were half the time and who was there with them during any scene. Time is disjointed and non-linear.

Flake has a tendency to end the chapter in one scene - and then start the next chapter a week later. Without saying, "One Week Later" or something - leaving her readers feeling bereft and lost. That scene that ended the chapter was exciting! What happened? How did it end? How did Octobia escape? She doesn't answer these questions, instead she just skips forward in time and then casually mentions "Oh, the cop came by and saved her," or whatever. This is not satisfying. I was annoyed.

Tl;dr - This book had a GREAT premise and could have been truly amazing. Instead it comes off as preachy, trite, heavy-handed and confusing. And I'm saying that as an ADULT. As an adult I was annoyed and confused. I can't recommend this to children. Ugh. I wanted to love this - and I was so disappointed. Avoid.

Not available in Spanish.
Profile Image for ✦BookishlyRichie✦.
639 reviews1,038 followers
December 29, 2020

This book right here, was incredible, heartbreaking, and full of mystery and heart. Octobia May wants nothing more than for everyone to believe her when she thinks Mr. Davenport, a young-war hero staying at her aunt's boarding house is a vampire. But no one will give her the time of day. She only has her best friend Jonah, new friend Bessie, and loving cat Juppie to keep her company and help her along the way to figure out this mystery. But if you're looking for a straight up MYSTERY, you're looking in the wrong place, though this does revolve around a mystery, this book is full of them and so much more.

You'll read about the struggle Octobia's aunt goes through for a black woman in the 50s to get a simple loan from a bank, to Octobia struggling to understand why a black girl her age can't go to a school with white children, to losing a friend forever, to solving a messy mystery, to learning what it is to be FREE in a world hell-bent on making it an eternal struggle.

You might also be wondering what the mystery was and if it worked? and I'm glad to say it did. Even with the heaviness you will find in this book, it still has a Nancy Drew vibe and I could totally see this becoming a movie. It would work amazingly.

I loved this book, but though I loved it and it was full to brim with BEAUTIFUL writing, it was a slow and confusing at parts. I honestly feel like the last 77 pages could've been cut from it, but that's just because I love fast-paced reads, and this one is not that at all. Don't let that sway you though, it is worth reading this amazing book. Even with its minor flaws, I still loved this book and think YOU reading this should give it a read sometime soon.

- Richard
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,206 reviews188 followers
January 31, 2017
This book has the most bonkers publisher’s blurb I have ever read in my life. It describes all the serious issues main character Octobia is dealing with as a black girl growing up in the 1950s, sent to live with her scandalously single and entrepreneurial aunt after a health scare. It lists all kinds of heavy topics, like racism, passing as white, equality for women...and then comes this line, and yes, I’m quoting: “And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist?”

WHAT?!?! I don’t know about you, but that is a book I could not wait to get my hands on. I dropped an Audible credit on it so fast my phone almost burned up from friction, and I was not disappointed. Octobia is my kind of girl, spunky, imaginative, and downright hilarious. This book is a total hoot. Round up all the kids in your life and read it aloud to them right now, man.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Erica.
1,332 reviews436 followers
Shelved as 'couldnt-finish'
February 3, 2016
Several months back, we were at a bookstore and Gabe saw this book. He handed it to me and said, "This looks like something you'd read" and, by golly, he was right! I mean, just look at that cover! Creepy house. Girl in 50's-type dress looking ready to do stuff. And her name! Octobia? YES! Yes, I wanted to read this book.
So I did. At least, I tried. I got more than halfway through.
Unfortunately, I could not get into this at all. I was confused by the narrator's voice because her thoughts skip around from one thing to an unrelated other all within the course of a paragraph, the writing style was offputting, and I wondered how someone in the 8-12 age range would feel about this story.

The premise is strong: Octobia May, whose parents want her to rest due to her bad heart that momentarily stopped and resulted in her death (according to her), is spending time at her aunt's boarding house and getting to know the mostly-elderly residents. She likes them all well enough but suspects that one is a vampire so she, with the help of her BFF, Jonah, sets out to prove to the world the boarder's vampire-ness. Also, there's a new girl who moves in across the street and who doesn't talk and who is bi-racial. And there's a cat. And a cemetery. And a haunted ring. And a problem with hair. And a Jewish lady. And a bitchy, judgmental mother. And a police officer. And Important Social Messages. And...stuff.

I was struggling along until I got to the part where confusing things happened and I gave up. It was too hard to follow this kid's thought patterns and I have a lot of other books to read.

Would I recommend this? Probably not. If I had a hard time with it, I imagine it's not going to be easy reading for a younger set, which is a shame because I really wanted to like this book.

Actually, had I read Carmen's review first, I could have avoided this tragedy altogether.
Profile Image for Arlene♡.
458 reviews103 followers
January 6, 2018
I just want to say for the record that this was a cover buy. I mean come on look at it. Then I want to go on and say that when you pick up this book to remember that it is a children's book.

I read this book thinking that it was going to be a young girl on a supernatural mystery thrill ride. While it was a book about a young girl and an adventure, the supernatural part was not all that present, and for spoiler reason, I won't say why. I read this book for #MarchMysteryMadness, and I'm not disappointed with what I read, but to be honest with myself, due to the way that it was written, (I thought the sentence structure was very choppy) it took me about 100 pages of the book, and to get a hang of the rhythm of the book and how it would read the mind of a little girl btw the ages of 7-10 in 1953.

The book was filled with historical references (Thurgood Marshall, Korean War is mentioned and even goes into explaining how it was for a Negro soldier to be with the ranks of whites who didn't even want them around and belittle them, and they even mention Satchel Paige) and I think it can definitely will show you a small slice of what the world was like in 1953 in a small town, in a boarding house with two rambunctious kids running around during the summer time. It even touched on what it was like for women in those days, especially a black woman, owning her own business and wanting that business to grow, and to see so much hate for that (coming from both blacks and white), as if the only "real" role for women in that day, especially being black, was in a subservient manner or nothing more than a housewife waiting to cook, clean, or iron her husbands shirts.

Was this book for me? No, but I don't regret reading it. It set out in my mind is one thing, but absolutely took the first right-hand turn on the left and went in another direction.

It showed a young girl with an unquestionable amount of curiosity in her, and the eagerness and strong will to keep on fighting, searching and asking questions of the world around her. And a never-ending quest to be as free as she could. You go Octobia May, I see you girl.

3 Stars.

Edit: After thinking about this book and going over my review again, I had to bump this up into 4 stars.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,406 reviews463 followers
November 3, 2014
Natasha read it and loved it and passed it on to me. And I'm glad she did. It took me a little while to get used to Octobia's voice: her sentences are often short, and given her fantastic imagination it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out what she's saying. But those are smallish quibbles about a fantastic book. Octobia is living in her aunt's boarding house where she is allowed rather more freedom than her own parents are willing to give her after a catastrophic heart problem. She is immersed in Nancy Drew and the aftermath of WWII, and caught up in the struggles for rights for colored people and women. On top of that, she's trying to solve the mystery of the man upstairs who doesn't sleep at night and may be a vampire.

The entire cast is struggling against stereotypes and discrimination of various kinds, and most are also dealing with the traumas suffered during the war. There is a lot going on here, but the reader doesn't have to take it all on board: the book works well as a conventional sort of intrepid child story, in which villains are unmasked.

Highly recommended to both the middle school audience and to older readers who will enjoy the realistic portrayal of the 50s.

Library copy.
Profile Image for Becky Birtha.
Author 18 books26 followers
June 27, 2015
There are many unexpected things about Sharon Flake's character, Octobia May. She was born with Ectopia Cordis, a rare condition in which the heart is outside the body. She describes a later near death experience during surgery as "when I died." She lives with her Aunt Shuma, who is a feminist ahead of her time in the early 1950s, and is raising Octobia May to be one as well. Octobia knows that she has a lot more freedom than most girls her age. A one-of-a-kind original, Octobia May believes in vampires-- in fact, she believes one is living in the rooming house her Aunt Shuma runs. Mr. Davenport may not be a vampire, but Octobia May is definitely onto something. As she and her friends Jonah and Bessie, seek to uncover what Mr. Davenport is hiding, the story increases in adventure, mystery, and danger.

There is a lot going on in this story, including Aunt Shuma's own adventures, trying to be accepted by the women's social club in which all the other women have husbands, and trying to get a loan from a bank to expand her business (not forthcoming for a single black woman at the time). Unfortunately, I had a hard time with Sharon Flake's elliptical writing style. Perhaps that was intended to be the main character's voice, since the story is written in the first person, but the style, or voice, made the story hard for me to follow. I'm also not an avid reader of mysteries, so my inexperience in that genre may have added to my confusion. While mysteries for adults almost always include a murder, children's mysteries usually don't. However, this plot eventually leads the children, and some of the adults, into situations that are very serious and frightening.

Despite these reservations, it's refreshing and satisfying to have an African American alternative to Nancy Drew, and another addition to the limited library of middle grade fiction about African American girls.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,000 reviews26 followers
August 13, 2014

I really liked so much about this book and yet some parts towards the ending just didn't sit right. Goods deeds in the past don't always outweigh bad in the future--to say more would be a spoiler but I'd be curious how others thought about it.
Profile Image for Edshara.
318 reviews13 followers
May 12, 2018
This was a good book, but I don’t think the synopsis properly prepares you for what it is about. I believe this could be a hard one to go into, without reading the synopsis, but just know that it is only part of the story.

Octobia was a well-rounded character. She is, spunky, inquisitive and has a very good imagination. I loved that her Aunt Shuma basically saved this girl from a very limited existence, and allowed her to live the life of an active child. My only issue was I think the thoughts she had about Mr. Davenport went on a little too long. The remaining characters, filled out the plot just fine. They were likable and their actions were understandable for either their age or the time period.

A few reviewers called this book preachy but I think it was just right. When you have POC, women and Jews still experiencing treatment like those in the 1950’s, it’s important to do what you can to dispel those types of negative thoughts and actions. The overall story was unique and I really enjoyed the turn it took, I wasn’t really expecting it (the synopsis had me thinking differently). It was a bit frustrating how the author seemed to switch between showing us how the plot unfolded and just telling us. The switch between dialogue and narration, wasn’t always smooth, and it took some time to settle into.

This one is hard to rate because the story itself is 4 stars. I just think it could have been better executed. I do, however, still think this is worth the read.
Profile Image for Angie.
3,624 reviews44 followers
December 17, 2014
Octobia May lives with her Aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Octobia is obsessed with Mr. Davenport, one of the boarders. She believes he is a vampire for much of the book. Octobia and her best friend Jonah start following Mr. Davenport and belief he killed a girl. No one believes them until Mr. Davenport and banker Mr. Harrison try to railroad Shuma when she goes for a loan. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue in this book as Octobia and Jonah try to figure out what is going on with Mr. Davenport. Octobia is a strange child who seems obsessed with death; she died for a little while and talks to the statues in the graveyard. There is a lot of important topics discussed in the book that aren't often talked about in middle grade fiction. Some of the boarders are holocaust survivors, no one will loan Aunt Shuma money because she is black and single, schools are segregated, there is talk of passing as white for light skinned Blacks, mixed race children and what it means to be free. You would think all of that would make this a more enjoyable story. It doesn't! I think Octobia's vampire obsession at the beginning of the book just made the whole thing seem more unrealistic and put me off the rest of the story. It was a bit on the long side and seemed less cohesive than I would have liked.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Saba N  Taylor.
207 reviews27 followers
October 31, 2014
I enjoyed Unstoppable Octobia May. The author took really tough topics, Jim Crow, Holocaust survivors, Racism, inequality, war and weaved a really captivating story. Through Octobia May, we learn what it was like for a girl of color in her time. You really can't help but root for a young girl who is ready for change and willing to put her life on the line for it.

The story is set the 50's when African Americans were fighting for equality and women and girls had a 'place' in society. The story follows a young, strong-willed and imaginative African-American girl named Octobia May who lives with her spinster aunt in her boarding home. Her aunt gives her "freedom" that most girls of color do not have. A little too much freedom according to the standards of the time. The story starts of with Octobia May chasing after one of her aunt's boarders who she believes to be a vampire but after way too many chapters, the story focuses on solving a mystery.

What I enjoyed most was the historical referencing and Octobia May's sheer will to find the truth and protect the ones she loves......it also helps I'm a sucker for getting to the bottom of a mystery! which the author did really well :D
Profile Image for Kayla Reed.
229 reviews9 followers
March 19, 2018
This was my 3rd audio book experience & my faith in audio books has been restored. I haven't read a middle grade novel in a while so I was a little scared I wasn't going to like this but god was I wrong.

Sadly, it did take me about 8 chapters to get into the story but that could have been due to me doing other stuff while I was listening to this and possibly nothing to so with the actual plot.

I laughed so hard at Octobia's & Jonah's shenanigans it was ridiculous and I was pretty invested in the neighborhood mystery. (Side note: I don't know about anyone else but I got major "Hey Arnold" vibes.) Also, I did get through this whole audio book in 1 day at 1.5 & 1.75 speed so, it is a pretty quick read and it was just that captivating to me.

One of the things I loved the most was that this book also had it's teaching moments mixed in with the "fun" mystery solving. I recommended this to everyone, even if you're hesitant about middle grade.

WARNING!!!!: This book is set back in the day so the N word (negro) is used, not often or over killed, just throughout the dialect of that time period, just in case this may bother some readers.
Profile Image for Heather.
763 reviews29 followers
January 8, 2021
I wanted to love this book, but I think I was just a bit too old for it. Trigger warnings: animal abuse, animal cruelty, animal death

Own voices; Black history; general history; excellent audiobook reader; explores racism's many faces; shows that family isn't always just your blood relations; imaginative, spunky heroine who is being raised to expect freedom and respect.

There was an awful lot of history packed into this book, and at times it seemed to interrupt the flow of the story. The ending wrapped things up in a confession by one of the villains, which was too convenient. Some of the issues explored in the book were not as fully covered as I was expecting. And there was a fairly graphic (for kids) scene in a butcher's shop dealing with the killing of a chicken as well as abuse and death of a family pet.

Not a bad book, nor is it badly written or plotted. Perhaps I went into it with too many expectations, but I found it just ok.
Profile Image for Anika.
870 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2018
This book is absolutely terrible. My daughter somehow managed to not mind it but please stay away. It’s all over the place and rather dark for a children’s book, and throws in pretty heavy topics as complete random asides that don’t get any attention or explanation.
Profile Image for Watch Books.
90 reviews35 followers
October 12, 2017
To be honest I didn't make it past the first quarter of the book. Maybe not even the first five chapters?

It was really confusing to follow our main characters narration, and I didn't know what was internal, external, past, present, true, or "wild imagination. The vampire thing threw me off, and could have been cute if it had ended about two or three chapters earlier. And from the looks of it, it was going to be around a good while.

Last straw for me (and it was totally my fault) was the themes. As soon as I saw that little and adorable(on the cover :D ) Octobia May was going to have to spend precious pages of her mystery and adventure books asking herself about issues that had to deal with "White and Black folks" I called it quits.

Now I do recall reading the summary for this book several times, so I don't know how I missed the entire-
"Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?" -bit

Like I have stated before there is *NOTHING* wrong with writing children books that deal with issues and themes such as these. In fact its important that children touch on these things at least once or twice, to raise awareness and discussion.

BUT- this wasn't what I was looking for in this book. Even if it was in there, I wanted a book that starred a young AA american girl, carefree, on her own adventure. And I didn't want her screen time to be taken over by the usual themes that have to take center stage in AA literature for children or teens.

I would like to see more books that feature AA and POC characters that don't always have to have their narrative taken over by heavy issues. If its in there, its fine - but it doesn't have to be the only reason the book is credible or has a reason for existing. Don't make kids think the only time they can have a book with a character like them is if said character is displaying events and themes that would leave one to believe that POC aren't worthy as people.As if maybe AA characters are only exciting if they are talking about race issues and slavery.

Wanted a book that would be fun and enjoyable for young children (particularly AA girls) that didn't so heavily rely on themes that they find in school textbooks or reading assignments. Ultimately this book wasn't for me. -Zoe
Profile Image for Joan.
2,001 reviews
February 15, 2015
This is more like a 2.5 star book, rounded up to 3 stars. I think that some of the problems I and others have had with the book is I'm guessing it is supposed to be the first of a mystery series and the author was laying down the foundation for the series which caused this book to drag a lot. Octobia May is a girl who has a lot of trouble separating her fantasies from real life. She is convinced that a man boarding at her Aunt's boarding house is a vampire and insists on it until she actually sees him giving blood to help soldiers overseas in Korea. If he has real blood and a heart pumping blood then he cannot be a vampire.She gives up her fantasy without much regret and then gets along with solving the real mystery of what is going on. Her vampire man may not be a vampire but he sure isn't a good person either, even though he does good things like give blood. I do like the fact that Flake makes the bad guys 3 dimensional, not altogether bad but with some good qualities. The best part of the book was talking about prejudice. Prejudice against Blacks, against Jews, against Irish, against single women and women in general, against children who insist on being heard, not just seen. Octobia May's Aunt wants to get a loan to invest in a series of boarding houses but no bank will give a single, unmarried Black woman a loan.

Even after Octobia May realizes the guy isn't a vampire she keeps an eye on him, convinced that something is wrong with him. And she is correct! She and her best friend, Jonah (whose Mom can't stand Octobia May) discover that the "vampire" is indeed up to no good.

I agree with many others that the first part of the story drags way too much with too much attention placed on her vampire guesses. Some have also complained about Octobia May's obsession with death. Well, the kid apparently did come close to dying with a heart condition, so the obsession does make sense. It reflects a more superstitious time...or more openly superstitious time...than the present.

My real problem was never being drawn into the story. It was always something I was reading, not something I was a part of in my mind. Octobia and her friends never really felt like people. In many ways the boarding house people felt more real, although they were somewhat confusing because of the sheer quantity of them. I also found the mystery rather confusing. It would have been nice if the mystery had been tidied up more. Just what happened to the bad guys is completely unclear. It also isn't really spelled out exactly what crimes the bad guys committed other than murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. Although actually, the men don't seem accused of kidnapping which seems pretty confusing as well. Judging from several scenes in the book, there is fraud being committed but expecting kids to understand that is quite a stretch as hazily as it is presented. In a juvenile book, I would expect more resolution in mysteries.

If there are more in this series, I doubt I'll bother reading them.
Profile Image for Heidi.
2,650 reviews53 followers
October 13, 2014
There were many things I liked about this book and a few things I did not. On the positive side, I really enjoyed Octobia May and her friend Jonah. Octobia May is a girl full of spunk and curiosity who relishes the freedom living with her aunt gives her after being smothered by her parents after nearly dying. Unfortunately, she tends to misuse her freedom to spy on one of her aunt's boarders, Mr. Davenport and she drags her friend Jonah into her misadventures. Her determination to prove Mr. Davenport is a vampire exasperates her aunt and everyone else around her. And her neighbors highly disapprove of her behavior as it is 1953 and she is expected to behave with more decorum. But slowly she starts to realize that what she thought was going on isn't what is going on at all and she better figure things out in a hurry before she finds herself losing all her new found freedom.

I enjoyed the look at a time period I am not overly familiar with and what life was like for many African Americans. The twist that Flake adds to the story is an intriguing one and one that I don't think most middle grade readers will have spent much time pondering. Octobia May also finds herself confronting the whole 'don't rock the boat' ideology that many people find themselves sitting in as she listens to her aunt and others talk about changes that would like to see but who are unwilling for the most part to help seek those changes.

The problems I had with the book revolve around the style of writing and the occasional use of dialect. At first I thought these were just errors but they kept happening so I then assumed that it was supposed to be a way of speaking, which I found a bit irritating. I have no idea how realistic this is for the time (1953) and place (African American community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) but it rubbed me the wrong way a bit. Not enough to stop me from reading the book, but enough to make it a much less smooth read.

The use of present tense didn't really bother me as it works to keep the reader knowing only what Octobia May knows which adds tension. But the short often incomplete sentences were sometimes hard to follow and I didn't always know who was talking or to whom.

Overall, the story was enjoyable with plenty of action and tension, great characters, and an interesting setting. But the style and writing could have been smoother.
Profile Image for Sammy.
409 reviews3 followers
May 30, 2015
This book is not foreveryone. Some may read it and love it and others may very much dislike it. What is comes down to is the style rather than the story. The story itself is thoughtful and full of history. The story takes place in the 1950's right before the Civil Rights movement. There are many reference to how things started to build up and what it was like to be black in the 1950's. Some people could be successful, but not as successful as they would like because the bank would not allow money to be given. The story touches on feminisim, Civil Rights, passing as white, and other historical situations like equality in schools.

While the story touches on so much one would think it would be very good, but it comes down to the style of how the story is written. For me it was very jumppy and it would switch scenes quickly or jump ahead in time without a clear transition; for example, all of a sudden it would be a week later and we do really know why, but the story would just continue. One thing that really annoyed me was that Octobia May would get into trouble a lot because people would not believe her so she would have to go sit in her room for a day or a week or even a month. Why have a story where the main character spaneds so much time just sitting in her room doing nothing. Yes it does slightly progress the story, but there could be a betterway of going about it. In a way maybe the author wanted to make the story go from May to October to reflect the time between the two months that the main character was named after, but when the time jump is not really needed it just makes the story more confusing.

Some people and children may like this story and may not mind the time jumping or unclear transitions, but I did not. Recommended for grades 3-5 students may like the Nancy Drew feel of the stroy with a girl trying to figure out if her aunts boarder is really a vampire or not and what he may have done. The book is good, but the style of writing may not be for all.
Profile Image for Brenda.
848 reviews36 followers
November 6, 2014
Octobia sees things with a child like view. She talks about “having been dead once herself”, and is overly fascinated with the idea that Mr. Davenport is a vampire. Mr. Davenport is certainly a mysterious, shady character but there really doesn't seem to be a reason for Octobia to believe he is a vampire. She also drops the idea when the plot of bank robbery and murder begins to unfold, so I'm not particularly sure why the idea was included in the overall plot. However, there were many things to love about Octobia. She is a very high spirited girl, I enjoyed her love for exploration and ventures into the graveyard by her Aunt's house. Octobia also has a wonderful imagination and perhaps Fluke wanted to illustrate her loneliness by having her create this imaginary idea of him being a vampire. Octobia does create these imaginary servant friends, and entertains herself by talking to the graves of the Before Girls. Another aspect that stands out is Octobia's friendship with Jonah, which was very sweet. I especially enjoyed when she helped him win a bet by kissing him on the cheek. Octobia had a knack for dragging Jonah along as she followed Mr. Davenport, often getting him into such trouble with his mother. I also enjoyed that Octobia had this never take no attitude and helps her new neighbor Bessie overcome her shyness, despite Bessie's father not trusting Octobia. Overall, Unstoppable Octobia May was an enjoyable read containing lots of historical details about racism and inequality, as well as a diverse set of characters to include Holocaust survivors and a child of mixed race.

I received a review copy from the publisher for free via NetGalley for
consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade Fiction.
Profile Image for Brittany.
930 reviews3 followers
January 24, 2020
Read and reviewed for School Library Journal 09/01/2014.

Gr 3–6—Octobia May has an untamed imagination. When she moves in with her Auntie Shuma, Octobia spends her days doing chores with her pretend servant friends, talking to the graves of the Before Girls at the nearby cemetery, and trying to unveil one of Auntie's boarders, Mr. Davenport, as the vampire he is. With the help of her friends, Jonah and Bessie, Octobia uncovers the dastardly deeds of Mr. Davenport, although the deeds have more to do with bank robbery and murder than with drinking blood. This story paints a realistic portrait of life for an African American girl in the 1950s, but the characterization and plot are marred by unclear writing. While the plot meanders, little information is offered about Octobia's (or any other character's) backstory, leaving readers ungrounded throughout the tale. Awkward quote attributions and murky action may have been meant to add to the mysterious nature of the plot, but fall short as one passage may take several examinations to comprehend. The way the adults, especially police officer O'Malley, in this story inexplicably flounder about with a cold-blooded murderer on the loose is unbelievable. Short chapters begin with a thick, black border, and a selected bibliography of relevant history ends the novel. While Octobia and other well-rounded characters were enjoyable and the overall plot was exciting, a less complicated writing style would have better highlighted the good this story offered.
Profile Image for Kendall.
737 reviews11 followers
November 17, 2014
3.5 stars. The book is about a spunky African-American girl named Octobia May, who has a very vivid imagination and is living with her aunt in the 1950s. As her aunt puts it, Octobia May is struggling to learn her "place" in the house, as a girl, as an African-American during segregation. Octobia is constantly on the lookout for thieves, criminals and other sordid individuals, as her penchant for Nancy Drew novels and spy stories in insatiable. However, Octobia becomes embroiled in a real-life crime filled with mystery, intrigue, danger and murder. The author has managed to intertwine this old-fashioned mystery with history, as the setting refers to WWII, segregation, Hitler, Jewish history, African-American history and many other topics. Flake does an excellent job writing a historical fiction book by blending history into it, and her point of view is quite believable, as Octobia May usually understands some of the picture but never quite the whole thing. (This definitely reads child's perspective.) However, Flake's use of Octobia's somewhat naïve nature and ignorance can make the story difficult to follow at times. Some of my stronger fifth and sixth grade readers will be able to tackle this, but it is going to be a hard sell. Parts of the book appear to appeal to a younger audience, but those younger readers would have a very difficult time understanding it. Those who stick with it will be rewarded, as many of the loose ends and puzzling events come together and are explained.
Profile Image for Ashleu.
838 reviews95 followers
May 5, 2015
Originally posted here

Unstoppable Octobia May is the story of Octobia May, who is a ten-year-old that, contrary to those around her, never stops asking questions. She is intrigued about everything, like most ten-year-olds are and Flake works on that. Throughout the story, I felt that Flake had a firm grasp on the character of Octobia. I related to her (even though we have nothing in common) and I understood why she was the way she was.

Which included living at a boarding house with her Auntie, who is not a typical Auntie. She’s unmarried, and and wants to own property during a time period that it was looked down upon and Auntie got along with Octobia extremely well and embraced Octobia for who she was. Even if Octobia was meant to be seen and not heard, her Auntie truly did not try to change her. However, all of her questioning does begin to get her in trouble. Her neighbors are not the people she thought they were and quickly her community turn on each other.

I was fascinated throughout this whole story and I hate saying this, but I could not put the book down. I adored it and wanted more of Octobia’s world. I wanted more inside her brain and the fact that racism was occurring in her own neighborhood where no one expected it. It was a quick read that left me questioning things that I didn’t expect when I began the novel. Highly recommend this clever novel.
Profile Image for Hilary.
2,244 reviews50 followers
January 17, 2015
Subjected to dangerous heart surgery at birth, Octobia May lives with her Aunt Shuma, due to her delicate health. Because she has been close to death, “having been dead once myself,” Octobia spends a lot of time thinking about death in the local graveyard and reading murder mysteries. Shuma lets her run wild, and as a result Octobia is independent, strong-willed, and quirky. She is also very observant and has noted that one of her Aunt’s boarders, Mr. Davenport, behaves oddly.

Octobia becomes convinced that Mr. Davenport is a vampire. She coerces her friends Jonah, her loyal follower and sometimes boyfriend, and Bessie, who has been mute ever since her older brother was killed in Korea, to start an investigation and to steal evidence from Mr. Davenport’s room to support their claims. The trio soon realizes that Mr. Davenport is, in fact, a murderer, but no one will listen to the children.

Flake has an excellent feeling for the time and place of the setting, a small Southern town in the 1950s. Readers will find this mystery-wrapped-in-historical-fiction novel covers several historical topics of interest. Bessie is a child of mixed-race. Aunt Shuma attempts to secure a bank loan, but can’t, because she is a black woman. Some of the boarders are Holocaust survivors. Readers will love the feisty title character, Octobia May. Although this book is successful on its own, readers will long for additional volumes chronicling her adventures.
Profile Image for Lisa.
455 reviews9 followers
January 4, 2016
Listening to Unstoppable Octobia May was a mixed experience. The characters are terrific -- each distinctive and complex -- and the audiobook performer did an excellent job voicing them. The discussion of "passing" is developmentally appropriate, and certainly it's a topic rarely seen in children's literature. (I can't think of another example.) Once the adventure truly begins, the pace picks up, with many heart-stopping moments; comparisons to Nancy Drew are apt, and at the best of times I was also reminded of Tom Sawyer.

I struggled with the pacing, however. The story gets off to quite a slow start, and in retrospect I wonder, why all the pages spent on Octobia May's vampire obsession (which seems a bit juvenile), when there's so much real danger to jump into? Likewise, while I appreciate the discussion of early 1950s feminism as it intersects with African American culture, at times it feels like overkill and drags down the plot. And when all is said and done, I'm not sure why the new neighbor family was necessary to the story.

In other words, there's much good in this book, but there's also a lot of material that feels like it outgrew itself. I would suggest it to young readers who like historical adventures, but it is probably not for most reluctant readers because of the slow and meandering beginning.
Profile Image for Monica Fastenau.
692 reviews12 followers
December 9, 2014
This book is not what I thought it was going to be–I thought it was going to be about vampires, but instead it’s about a girl named Octobia May, who is described by her aunt as the freest ten-year-old African-American girl in the 1950s. Her Auntie and her friend Jonah are by turns pleased with and aggravated by her constant snooping around and her big imagination. Octobia May thinks that her Auntie’s boarders is a vampire (thus my initial impression of the book–but there’s nothing supernatural in it!), but as she tries to find proof for this allegations, she finds that, vampire or no, the boarder is not all he seems to be. She and Jonah start their own investigation in the boarder that leads them to some dangerous places.

I enjoyed this book while I was reading it. The mystery kept me guessing, and Octobia May was a fun character, always getting into and out of trouble. The problem is, five days later, I remember almost nothing about the book. So, cute as it was, it was not anything super special, and nothing stuck in my head after I finished it.

*Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Read more on my blog: http://newberyandbeyond.com/review-co...
Profile Image for Sanne (SignedbySanne).
187 reviews48 followers
February 7, 2017
I really enjoyed the historical setting and learning more about racial issues in 1950's USA. I think the characters were quite well done and I really cared a lot for Octobia and her Auntie especially.

However, because the author was so focused on giving the reader these messages about racism and sexism (which I think she did a good job of explaining in a way that children can understand, because it was all from Octobia's perspective), it kind of took away from the mystery plot-line. The long monologues inside the main characters mind about these kind of subjects were interesting, but slowed the plot down a little too much and became slightly repetitive. Considering this is supposed to be a middle-grade mystery novel, I think it could have used some more fun detective scenes with the kids to give it more of that Nancy-Drew vibe.
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 14 books51 followers
November 23, 2014
Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.

Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special - and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a "wise soul." Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia's parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That's when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She's unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are "seen, not heard," Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?

And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
December 14, 2014
Moving backward in time to the 1950s, the author spins a mystery that contains elements of race, gender, and power. Octobia May, a smart, feisty youngster, is convinced that there is something suspicious about one of her Aunt Shuma's tenants. With the help of two friends, she eventually solves the mystery while realizing that human beings are complex and that sometimes bad individuals do good things and good individuals do evil things. While I liked Octobia from the start, it took me some time to figure out what was going on, especially when she accused Mr. Davenport of being a vampire. Still, once I got past that and her references to having died, I enjoyed the book. It may be a tough sell to middle graders familiar with her earlier titles, though, since it is quite different from those. One of the coolest parts was how all her aunt's tenants seemed to love Octobia so much and how they shared their own stories about freedom. If readers will be patient, they will appreciate this once since it tackles new territory rarely explored in books for this age group.
Profile Image for Lorie.
631 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2015
Octobia May lives with her Aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Her determination gets her into trouble when she stumbles onto the secrets of her Aunt’s border and the local bank manager.

Set in the 1950’s, historical issues surrounding race and politics are central to the mystery. Her Aunt sees that the future holds more possibilities for Octobia, just as she can see that the past and current situations hold her back from her own ambitions as an hotelier. Octobia’s character must confront racism in her own community as she uncovers the mystery to who the border is and why people keep ending up murdered in the Bend River. This middle grade novel has an exciting and thought provoking mystery at its core.

I would recommend this book for purchase to any middle school or public library for purchase.
This book was provided by the publisher for professional review by SWON Libraries.
Profile Image for Steph.
545 reviews271 followers
March 22, 2017
This book is an exciting mystery about the spirited Octobia May, a black girl growing up in 1950s. It’s an excellent mix of fun kids’ shenanigans and very serious, poignant moments.

Unfortunately, Unstoppable Octobia May isn't really rooted in a particular place. There is very little imagery, there's rarely good sense of setting or situation. Consequently, I never felt close to the characters or invested in the story. I wanted to love Octobia May, but I never really understood her world. Perhaps this is not a symptom of poor writing but a testament to the well-crafted child-like narration.

Though I did find fault with Unstoppable Octobia May, I still did enjoy the story. It’s smart and it’s funny, and Octobia May sure is a little firecracker.

Thank you to NetGalley and Scholastic for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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