Monday, October 13, 2014

MMGM: Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake


Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.

Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special - and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a "wise soul." Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia's parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That's when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She's unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are "seen, not heard," Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?

And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.


There were many things I liked about this book and a few things I did not.  On the positive side, I really enjoyed Octobia May and her friend Jonah.  Octobia May is a girl full of spunk and curiosity who relishes the freedom living with her aunt gives her after being smothered by her parents after nearly dying.  Unfortunately, she tends to misuse her freedom to spy on one of her aunt's boarders, Mr. Davenport and she drags her friend Jonah into her misadventures.  Her determination to prove Mr. Davenport is a vampire exasperates her aunt and everyone else around her.  And her neighbors highly disapprove of her behavior as it is 1953 and she is expected to behave with more decorum. But slowly she starts to realize that what she thought was going on isn't what is going on at all and she better figure things out in a hurry before she finds herself losing all her new found freedom.

I enjoyed the look at a time period I am not overly familiar with and what life was like for many African Americans.  The twist that Flake adds to the story is an intriguing one and one that I don't think most middle grade readers will have spent much time pondering.  Octobia May also finds herself confronting the whole 'don't rock the boat' ideology that many people find themselves sitting in as she listens to her aunt and others talk about changes that would like to see but who are unwilling for the most part to help seek those changes.

The problems I had with the book revolve around the style of writing and the occasional use of dialect.  At first I thought these were just errors but they kept happening so I then assumed that it was supposed to be a way of speaking, which I found a bit irritating. I have no idea how realistic this is for the time (1953) and place (African American community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) but it rubbed me the wrong way a bit.  Not enough to stop me from reading the book, but enough to make it a much less smooth read.

The use of present tense didn't really bother me as it works to keep the reader knowing only what Octobia May knows which adds tension.  But the short often incomplete sentences were sometimes hard to follow and I didn't always know who was talking or to whom.

Overall, the story was enjoyable with plenty of action and tension, great characters, and an interesting setting.  But the style and writing could have been smoother.

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