Parents' Guide to

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Compelling tale of slavery, experiment in Revolutionary era.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 5 parent reviews

age 18+

Child translates pornography from Latin, sexual assault

This title has:

Too much sex
Too much swearing
age 15+

Complex novel that challenges its readers in many ways

Challenges well-loved myths about America: slavery is an ugly, hypocritical truth during the push for "liberty"; economic/market concerns interfered with the nation's ethical considerations; the Enlightenment had an ugly irrational side; the Revolution was not quite so clean as "good guys beat bad guys" (e.g., England may have been more enlightened than the colonies about slavery); etc. I think this is a wonderful development, because it gets us to think critically about those glossy myths, but these much-needed epiphanies could be painful for a reader who believes that America is exceptional and exclusively good. This novel will also help build strong context/content knowledge, but could be a huge struggle for a reader who has a shaky grasp of history and/or geography, and especially one not familiar with the often-beautiful but syntactically dense and vocabulary-rich 18th century style, which Anderson uses to great effect.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (5):
Kids say (6):

Historical novels often play fast and loose with the facts, but this coming-of-age story is well-researched and completely compelling. Octavian Nothing is intellectually complex, rich in language and ideas, and highly original. Author M.T. Anderson uses an approximation of the style of a classically trained 18th century writer, combined with an almost postmodern, episodic, time-shifting structure. For teens with a taste for high-level language, extended philosophical discourse, and complex literary structure, this will be a rare treat. But it may not resonate with younger teens or those not up for a real challenge.

Octavian is a fascinating character who will help readers connect deeply with the horrors of slavery and also get them thinking about some big identity questions. The supporting cast is rich in diversity, and the narrative brims with thematic exuberance. This volume is the first of two. Few readers will be able to resist seeking out the concluding installment.

Book Details

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