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The plot focuses on Octavian, a young black boy who recounts his youth in a Boston household of scientists and philosophers (The Novanglian College of Lucidity). The Collegians believe so thoroughly in the Age of Reason's principles that they address one another as numbers. Octavian soon learns that he and his mother are objects of one of the Collegians' experiments to learn whether Africans are "a separate and distinct species." Octavian receives an education "equal to any of the princes in Europe," until financial strains shatter Octavian's sheltered life of intellectual pursuits and the illusion that he is a free member of a utopian society. As political unrest in the colonies grows, Octavian experiences the increasing horrors of what it means to be a slave.
The story's scope is immense, in both its technical challenges and underlying intellectual and moral questions--perhaps too immense to be contained in a traditional narrative (and, indeed, Anderson has already promised a second volume to continue the story). As in Meg Rosoff's Printz Award Book How I Live Now (2004), in which a large black circle replaces text to represent the indescribable, Anderson's novel substitutes visuals for words. Several pages show furious black quill-pen cross-hatchings, through which only a few words are visible, perhaps indicating that even with his scholarly vocabulary, Octavian can't find words to describe the vast evil that he has witnessed. Likewise, Anderson employs multiple viewpoints and formats--letters, newspaper clippings, scientific papers--pick up the story that Octavian is periodically unable to tell.
Once acclimated to the novel's style, readers will marvel at Anderson's ability to maintain this high-wire act of elegant, archaic language and shifting voices, and they will appreciate the satiric scenes that gleefully lampoon the Collegians' more buffoonish experiments. Anderson's impressive historical research fixes the imagined College firmly within the facts of our country's own troubled history. The fluctuations between satire and somber realism, gothic fantasy and factual history will jar and disturb readers, creating a mood that echoes Octavian's unsettled time as well as our own.
Anderson's book is both chaotic and highly accomplished, and, like Aidan Chambers' recent This Is All (2006), it demands rereading. Teens need not understand all the historical and literary allusions to connect with Octavian's torment or to debate the novel's questions, present in our country's founding documents, which move into today's urgent arguments about intellectual life; individual action; the influence of power and money, racism and privilege; and what patriotism, freedom, and citizenship mean. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Unfortunately the ending leaves you hanging and doesn't seem complete.
Word choice is important in how much of your characters your reader will see and through Mr. Anderson's prose, I completely connected to Octavian.
He read all of the great literature, in several languages, including Greek and Latin.
An interesting look at slavery in Revolutionary War times. A different perspective. I'm now reading volumne 2, which continues the story.Published 15 days ago by James Foley
Interesting read. I love how the story is told through the eyes of an African child as he grows, protected from the ravages of slavery under the guise of kindness and... Read morePublished 18 days ago by NATIVEDETROITER
Writing was unique and captivating-just couldn't put it down. I enjoyed it very much and later purchased the sequel--which was equally well written.Published 1 month ago by Mellie
How ugly we whites can be, an eye opener, lets hope that we speak up when we hear racism being propagated.Published 2 months ago by Gregor Popp
The circumstances surrounding Octavian's childhood are mysterious. He is a Prince, his mother a Queen, and is being raised in a home in Boston with scientists who study his every... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Devon M. Roberson
I read this book for a class, and greatly enjoyed both the tale and the analysis that followed. It was an interesting look at that time period.Published 3 months ago by Nicole
An amazing book. You really get inside the main character and learn about his world as he does. Thus it gives a unique view on the time just before the US revolutionary war. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Mary P.
7/11 - For the first 36 pages I was under the impression that this was some kind of dystopian fantasy, not historical fiction. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Sarah Frost