The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation:
Volume I, The Pox Party
by M.T. Anderson
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Octavian Nothing is a boy brought up by scientific men in the American Colonies and given the education of a prince. His mother, he believes, was a princess in Africa, so he sees nothing strange in this. Nor, being accustomed to the routine, does he find the weighing and recording of his meals and excretions strange. At age five, he is taught to weigh the latter himself.
"By such lessons did I become acclimated to scientific calculation in even the meanest function, so learning the secrets of tare and gross. When, at about that time, I perceived that others did not have their leavings weighed so, it made a great impression upon me; and I had an even greater sense of my mysterious importance..."
As the American Revolution begins, the College of Lucidity where Octavian has been raised holds a vaccination "pox party" with a secret purpose. The revolutionaries raising havoc in the streets will not disturb a gathering where the smallpox contagion is rife. As events become more harrowing and the ravages of disease relax discipline, Octavian, now in his mid-teens, discovers the humiliating ultimate purpose of the College's experiments with him. Although the College of Lucidity is fictional, other experiments in education were not unknown in the eighteenth-century age of reason, science and philosophy.
Ironically, the American struggle for freedom left out those most in need of it, the literally enslaved. Discovering his condition, Octavian Nothing fights valiantly to escape it, achieving a triumph of the spirit even at the brink of despair.
(2006; 351 pages plus an Author's Note discussing the history behind the story; recommended for ages 14 and up, including adult readers; ALA top ten, National Book Award, Printz Honor Book)
More about Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 2, The Kingdom on the Waves (2008). More info
Other novels about black teens during the American Revolution:
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008). More info
Taking Liberty by Ann Rinaldi (2002). More info
1776: Son of Liberty by Elizabeth Massie (2000). More info
Nonfiction about life in Colonial America:
Children in Colonial America, edited by James Marten (2006). More info
Blacks in Colonial America, by Oscar Reiss (1997). More info
African Americans in the Revolutionary War at Wikipedia
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