November 18, 2010

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Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Univers, and Everything
by Rebecca Rupp, Candlewick Press, 2010, 185 pages.

In 20 brief chapters, fictional seventh-grader Octavia Boone questions not only life, the universe, and everything but her mother’s decision to leave the family and join a fundamentalist religious community and her father’s decision to not fight it. From the beginning, Octavia, who narrates the book, is opposed to the assertions of the church group her mother forces her to join. She’s clear-headedly not buying, or liking, their threats of damnation, their fight against Halloween, the way their world closes in around approved Christian music, approved Christian everything. It’s the “approved” part — who decides and how? — she has trouble with. This is a novel with no tidy resolution; what’s interesting is that it fearlessly takes Octavia’s side, not sarcastically or snarkily but straightforwardly. It values questioning and critical thinking. At book’s end Octavia’s big questions and her mind remain open, unlike those of the “Redeemers.” But in the same way that Octavia wishes people — her mother — would accept things like Halloween and pop music, she has to accept the existence of the fundamentalists, who she comes to realize are just people wanting something to hold on to. The details of the story are mostly forgettable; the overall tone sticks. B -Lisa Parsons