Monday, April 05, 2010

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

I often hear about new or award winning young adult books at library conferences. This is one of those books. The reviewer told us how wonderful this book is and to stick with it despite how dark it is. And it is very, very dark.

A pregnant slave girl, who eventually delivers a boy, is bought by the leader of a philosophic/science group. The girl is treated like a princess and the young boy is raised in a life of privilege. The story is told from the perspective of the young boy who tells his story through a series of memories and letters. Each chapter recounts some act of torture or experiment upon himself. We soon learn that the group of men raising him had their own evil intentions on why they performed these experiments. At some point the American Revolution enters the story and a discussion of the meaning of freedom sort of concludes the story.

I read the first 5 chapters of the book and was depressed. It is so dark and disturbing that I couldn't imagine what the pay off was. Was there any hope? I skipped through the book reading various pages and found that the ENTIRE book was this way. The end of the book has Octavian saying something like, "I don't know what freedom is, but at least I will have the freedom to die." Apparently there is a sequel that further explores issues of slavery and freedom.

I know that historically people did horrible and despicable things. But the set-up for this story is unbelievable and evil. The author mixes ideas of the Enlightenment and transposes it to Boston, giving it a sinister twist. He incorrectly throws in ideas of Darwinism, a point of view not known till much later. While it may be good for young adult readers to explore themes about slavery vs. freedom, the author takes the reader to unknown depths to make his point. This is one book to toss in the trash. It is not appropriate for young adult readers due to explicit descriptions of torture, rape, adultery and requires an advanced reading level to understand.

Book Rating: Yuck, just toss it.


The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.

No comments: