The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party

Set in the Revolutionary era, this provocative book chronicles the life of Octavian; a boy classically educated and experimented on by a group of radical philosophers and scientists. Bought from slave traders, Octavian and his beautiful African princess mother stay secluded in a posh estate while studied and tested upon like lab rats. The scientists bear no conscience or emotional attachment, methodically going to appalling extremes, inflicting significant suffering on the two slaves for the sake of scientific advancement. The most severe clinical trial being the “Pox Party”, where a group of guests enjoy a lavish party along with a small pox injection. It is no surprise the experiment proves disastrous, resulting in the death of several of the participants, including the hideous death of Octavian’s mother.

This freaky book is certainly a thought-provoker, with intellectually challenging narrative and vocabulary that requires an attentive reader, and ethical dilemmas that will stir discussion. I like a challenge, but I bailed out halfway through the read. I felt the graphic and sickening descriptions of the experiments and punishments were gratuitous and spoiled the book. Other objectionable material included profanity, sexuality, and other violent acts. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing won the author the 2006 National Book Award for young people’s literature.

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