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Octavia Boone's Big Questions about Life, the Universe and Everything Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 14, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8–Seventh-grader Octavia Boone is having a tumultuous and life-changing year. Her mother, who has always been flighty and in search of fulfillment, becomes enamored with a fundamentalist religious group. She soon begins a radical transformation that ultimately results in her moving in with fellow Redeemers a few towns over. Octavia's problems are exacerbated by her father, who constantly quotes Henry David Thoreau. He is angry at his wife and rather selfish to begin with. While Octavia is respectful of religion, she does not like the Redeemers and questions why this is all happening. She decides that if she is able to use her science-fair project to prove that there is no god, her mother will come home and everything will go back to normal. Rupp does exhibit a bias against some aspects of this religious group and also shows that adults are not always right, do not always know what is best, and can be quite flawed. The sensory condition synesthesia is used as a device, but seems a bit unnecessary in a story that already has so many complicating elements. However, there are great lessons to be learned about judging others and being torn between opposing views, and the author does show how hard it can be to be a kid sometimes.Kerry Roeder, The Brearley School, New York City
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From the Back Cover
Octavia's best friend, Andrew, wants to know why time runs forward instead of backward, or if it's possible to talk to an alien jellyfish. Octavia has much bigger questions on her mind: Why do bad things happen, like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Octavia's father is convinced that art and Henry David Thoreau hold the key to life. Her mother, Ray, though, has always been seeking greater meaning - up until now. Octavia's problem is not only that her parents have different answers to the big questions but that their answers are threatening to tear her family apart. Could it be that some questions are too big to have just one answer? Could it be that the universe is far wider than Octavia's - or perhaps anyone's - view of it? --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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My reaction can be summed up in one word: MEH. It's sad that a young person would waste his or her time reading this book when library bookshelves OVERFLOW with meaningful, exciting, transformative and enlightening books, both fiction and non-fiction. Life is short, time is valuable, and what you read (or otherwise focus your attention upon) shapes you as a person. So: choose to spend your reading time wisely. MY time was wasted reading this book, but if my review helps you decide to pass it by, then I can salvage at least SOME purpose for the time spent.
Author Rebecca Rupp has a Ph.D. in cell biology yet makes her heroine Octavia sound like a scientific moron by having her think she can use her science fair project to destroy her mother's interest in fundamentalist religious beliefs. Octavia believes she is doing actual scientific research when she asks different people to pray, meditate and/or engage in feng shui over bean plants to influence their growth rate. When there is no obvious difference between the control plants and the plants subjected to "spiritual practices," Octavia is crushed and moans, "I'd been so sure that I would be able to prove that prayer doesn't work and that, therefore, there is no God."
Give me a break that any teenager with half a brain would seriously think he or she could so easily "prove" there is no God. Rupp takes a situation which COULD have led to thought-provoking dialogue and a realistic story and simply makes it an asinine joke. First, I think most teens would recognize the obvious flaw that if you do not believe in God, then your mumbling some words out into the void does not constitute "prayer," and, second, if the existence of God could be proven or disproven so easily it would have been done long, long, ago, honey. Even a moron can reach that conclusion without much effort.
Rupp is a proponent of homeschooling (as I generally am, though I also believe we will need good schools and homeschooling is not appropriate for everyone) and she no doubt wrote this book, in part, as a protest against the conservative "Bible-believing, Jesus freak" mentality which pervades so much of the American homeschooling subculture. I just don't see how this book does anything to change that mentality or, really, to challenge it in any meaningful way. Certainly Octavia's parents (Boone and Ray) are just as dysfunctional in their own way as the fundamentalists Rupp portrays. If a young girl reads this book hoping to find some guidance for how to live her life, what will she learn, really? Not much.
If you want a good story about a girl who stands strong against the misguided beliefs of fundamentalists, read Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Or, for that matter, provoke your thinking with the real life hardships confronted (and surmounted) by an intelligent and amazing man born unjustly into slavery: 'The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.' Now THESE books are 'thought-provoking.'