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Ways to Live Forever Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although I was personally caught up in Sam’s story (and yes, crying through the second half), I was distracted by the question of whether or not this book would really appeal to an eleven year old boy. I know there’s an appetite for sob-stories in young girls, but would boys pick this up? I can’t say I know the answer, but one thing consoled me – Sam is really thinking things through. We see his distraught parents trying to cope, and occasionally they come on the scene as realistic, fully-fleshed characters, but Sam isn’t thinking about his approaching death the way they are (although for the first time in a story like this, I found myself identifying with the parents – maybe because Sam is only 11). He’s thinking about whether he could accomplish his goals (I loved the going up the down escalator scene) and what death is really like and how his book will end.

Sam has a fantastic teacher who visits him at home – a personality mainly revealed to us through the experiments and projects she gives Sam – and up until the end she encourages Sam’s scientific thinking and intellectual exploration. Since we know Sam is dying, this is a depiction of learning for its own sake (and not because it will be useful when you grow up) that could really inspire kids. Not in a maudlin “be grateful you have your health” way, or an “if a dying kid is this interested in science, you can be, too” way, but just showing the rewards of using your brain for whatever pursuits interest you. Which is all a long way of saying that the character development makes this more than just a sad, dying child story. Kids who like to ask those big questions will find it compelling. The rest of us might need some Kleenex handy.

View all my reviews.

Ways to Live Forever was matched up today against Octavian Nothing in the Battle of the Books – while Judge Roger Sutton didn’t quite share my screaming enthusiasm for all things Octavian, he did name Prince O as the winner.  The comment I most appreciated was that “If, however, someone asked me for another Kingdom on the Waves, I’d be stuck. It’s a book we didn’t have before and thus offers new possibilities for the books that will come after.”

Speaking of M.T. Anderson, but on a lighter note, I recently stumbled across a link to a truly glorious elegy to a chicken which begs to be read aloud.  I found myself quoting it yesterday.

There’s being a nerd, and there’s being a nerd.  This morning, Kitri and I held our own “Octavian Nothing Release Party.”  Just like when a new volume of a bestselling series comes out, and bookstores host parties and kids line up in costumes to get the book at the stroke of midnight.  Just like it.  Except Powell’s wasn’t open at midnight, so we pre-ordered a couple copies and showed up at 9 am to pick them up.  And then we had breakfast and chatted.  It’s the grown-up nerd version of a release party, okay?

So far I haven’t let myself jump into it – there are a lot of other things I should read first.  How long will I hold out?  Maybe an hour.  Already the title page delights me:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

Traitor to the Nation

Taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources

Collected by Mr. M. T. Anderson of Boston

Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

I love holding a book in my hands that I know I will love.  Actually, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of fantastic works of creativity lately.  I inhaled Nancy Werlin’s Impossible on Saturday – and I’m still trying to digest it to give it justice in a review.  My brother and I went to heard the Portland Baroque Orchestra do Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Sunday – an absolute delight.  I started reading Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music on Julia’s recommendation, and it’s made me put all kinds of music on hold at the library to compliment the reading.

And then, on Saturday we’re going to see Swan Lake. Can you believe I’ve never seen Swan Lake live?  It’s an over-the-top confection and I adore it.  Tragedy, romance, impersonation, evil magicians, flocks of swans, swoony music, and a really great party scene – classic Tchaikovsky.  What more do you want from a ballet?

In addition to all that, I’m swimming through piles of children’s books for my classes feeling overwhelmed, not by how much I have to do, but by how many great things there are out there to choose from.

And in addition to my giant pile of library books, I’ve got Paper Towns and White House Autumn being shipped to me.  If I neglect the blog, it’s because I’m too busy reading to come up for breath.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves.

October 14, 2008.

Okay, a few more words.  You may remember that I have a deep and abiding love for Volume I: The Pox Party.  Not only do I think it was one of the most finely written pieces of fiction (not just Ya fiction – fiction in general) to pass in front of my eyeballs, I adored the period language and the history and the character of Octavian himself.  I’ve been keeping my ears perked ever since I finished it for the second volume.  I want it in my hands now.  Or at least as soon as I’ve had a chance to reread the first one.

If you haven’t read The Pox Party yet, and like smart historical fiction and fab language, what are you waiting for?

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