Monday, January 22, 2007
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party
Anderson, M. T. 2006. THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, Volume 1: THE POX PARTY. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick. ISBN 0763624020 [Suggested Grade Levels 9 – 12]
Anderson has authored a complex and compelling historical novel set in Boston just prior to the American Revolution centered around a young enslaved African American boy, named Octavian Nothing. His odd upbringing is conducted by a radical society of philosophers who experiment upon him, while providing an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated from everyone else, so his awareness of his uniqueness is a gradual awakening. Unfortunately, the philosophers fall upon hard times and their experiments become increasingly bizarre, culminating in a “pox party” in which they hope to inoculate themselves against the disease of small pox. When Octavian’s mother dies a horrific pox death, he runs away and fights anonymously alongside a group of patriots, until he is recaptured and returned to Boston. He is forced into captivity, wearing a hideous iron mask until he once again escapes... with his story to be continued. This is an ambitious story told in archaic language and sentence constructions true to the time period, and challenging for contemporary readers.
This is a book that should prompt discussion about the role of science and experimentation and race in Revolutionary America.
Young adults may also enjoy seeking out other books that integrate a variety of writing formats, including letters, diary entries, etc.
Other works about the plight of the African American in early U.S. history:
Nelson, Marilyn. FORTUNE’S BONES: THE MANUMISSION REQUIEM. ISBN 1932425128
Rinaldi, Ann. HANG A THOUSAND TREES WITH RIBBONS: THE STORY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY. ISBN 0152008772
Young adult books about disease in American history:
Anderson, Laurie Halse. FEVER 1793. ISBN 0689848919
Murphy, Jim. AN AMERICAN PLAGUE. ISBN 0395776082
By Sylvia M. Vardell