Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson

Octavian NothingAnderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008. Print.

M.T. Anderson is by no means a stranger to the world of YA Lit, having written several highly acclaimed young adult novels that have already found their way onto the library shelves and course syllabi of many high schools across the nation.  I noticed that his novel Burger Wuss  made it onto the summer reading list for my high school this year; and, perhaps, his better known novel, Feed, was a National Book Award Finalist a couple years back.

His new novel, Octavian Nothing, follows the childhood of a young boy in the American colonies on the eve of the Revolutionary War.  We know that Octavian is the son of a princess and prince from a country across the ocean.  We know that Octavian is the brilliant protegee of the “enlightened scholars” who populate the Novanglican College of Lucidity, behind whose walls Octavian lives his studious, but sheltered, life.  What we are left to answer for ourselves is the question of who Octavian is.  Why is he so important, and for what purposes is he being taught and sheltered by the Novanglican Church of Lucidity?

Written in elegantly heightened and beautiful prose, from the point of view of our protagonist, Octavian, M.T. Anderson allows readers to witness the birth of a nation from a point of view that continues to be largely ignored in historical accounts and fictional narratives, alike.  Anderson asks us to examine the hypocrisy that exists between the ideals on which countries are founded and the reality of those ideals in practice.  Through his focus on the horrifying experience of one individual through a time that is generally looked upon idealistically and nostalgically, we are confronted with the question of what it means to be a citizen of or a traitor to a nation.

I cannot praise this book enough.  I think that it should be required reading for all high school American Literature students.  While the language may prove a little difficult, it would be more than worth it to try to teach a book that deals with such compelling, important and contemporarily relevant themes.  This is, by far, the best YA book that I have read in a while; I can’t wait for the second volume!

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