Like the title, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1 The Pox Party is long and odd. It is categorized as Young Adult Fiction, which may be a deterrent for some readers, but I believe that adults and teens alike would enjoy this book. The narrator is young Octavian Nothing, a boy who lives in a strange house where only he and his mother go by their names; everyone else answers to numbers. The members of this household are philosophers and scientists, experimenting on everything and everyone–including Octavian. Set at the beginning of the revolution in Boston, Octavian discovers his role in a disturbing experiment, and the meaning of his dark skin and enslavement while the country fights for it’s freedom.
Octavian Nothing is beautifully written. It’s passages are poetic at times, and Octavian’s narrative is incredibly intelligent. Through the novel we witness Octavian’s awakening and heartbreak. I loved all of this novel, except for a portion in the last section. This part was told in a series of letters from a revolutionary soldier, and I found them cumbersome and unexciting. I loved Octavian’s voice so much that I wished he would resume narrating his story. In addition, I sometimes felt that things were unfolding a bit too slow, and Octavian should be realizing some obvious things earlier than he did. However, besides these flaws I did enjoy the book very much. It offers some interesting perspectives on the biases that can be mistakenly justified by crooked science, and the novel can make you question the foundations this nation was built upon.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book. I think it is a good representative of the poetic writing-style, as well as the intelligent questions the book poses:
“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 constant expenditure of particles flying off the surfaces of things; 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.”
Pg. 316, Candlewick Press paperback edition, 2008