A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this award-winning book is told from the perspective of an escaped slave who fights in the Revolutionary War to gain his freedom. The intense subject matter means that there's plenty of grim, graphic violence -- including hanging, decapitation, rape, and torture. A major character is killed, with his jaw and part of his skull blown off. There are also sexual references, racist attitudes, and swearing. But through this mature material -- which is written in a dense but lyrical style that will be challenging to teens -- readers will get an incredible story that not only tells of a teen coming of age but also offers a unique perspective on the American Revolution.
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What's the story?
This sequel to the National Book Award-winning The Pox Party finds Octavian escaping with Dr. Trefusis, with the two making their way into beseiged Boston in 1775. After a stay there filled with privation, illness, and some fleeting moments of happiness, they head south to Virginia to join Gov. Dunmore, who has promised freedom to any slaves who join his army to fight against the rebels. But Dunmore is incompetent -- and only interested in freedom if it helps him win.
Is it any good?
That this is a brilliant historical novel there can be no doubt. Complex narrative structure and sophisticated, often lyrical, language are employed to bring to life an almost forgotten part of the American Revolution from an equally forgotten point of view -- that of the slaves, whom both sides attempted to use, and neither side considered human.
Through nearly 600 pages of misery, illness, violence, and witty philosophical discourse, Octavian's hope for the betterment of humanity remains, in spite of his almost uniformly horrific experiences. This is a dense book, and the literary style will make it a challenge for many teens. Keep a dictionary at their elbows.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical event and point of view. How is this view of the Revolution different than the one we usually see? Did it make you think about it differently? Why don't we usually hear this view?
This book includes a great deal of violence. Is it gratuitous or necessary given the subject matter? Are there limits to how graphic the content should be in a book aimed at teens?
What makes this a young adult book? Why would the publisher decide to market it that way? What separates YA from adult fiction?
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