The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party -- M. T. Anderson
This will be a hard one to write up—much like Never Let Me Go and House of the Scorpion, it'll be easy to let spoilers slip. I'll try my best not to—but if you want to be double-sure, then just read this and skip the rest:
Octavian Nothing is one of the few MUST READS this year. It's outstanding in every way.
Set in the time leading up to and during the American Revolutionary War, the first volume of Octavian's story follows him from his first memory to age sixteen.
Octavian grows up wearing the finest clothes. He receives a classical education from some of the greatest minds in their respective fields. His mother is a princess from another land, which makes him a prince. Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, right?
Bit by bit, the stranger elements of his life are introduced: Octavian and his mother are the only people in the household with names—everyone else is referred to by a number. Every one of his meals is carefully weighed, as is the waste. He hardly ever leaves the house and its grounds, and never leaves alone:
When we did go abroad, Mr. 03-01 warned me that I should not lean out at the window of the carriage, and should not show my face. He told me that, should I ever run away into the city, I would not return, but would be snatched up by evil men who would take me forever away from my mother. This was, I know now, but a half-lie.
There is one room in the house that is forbidden to him. When he finally enters it, he comes to an understanding about the reality of his world and his place in it. Nothing is ever the same again.
It was riveting. And the language... I kept going back and re-reading bits over and over again. I rolled the words around and savored them. It was like eating dessert:
...reading, once begun, quickly becomes home and circle and court and family; and indeed, without narrative, I felt exiled from my own country. By the transport of books, that which is most foreign becomes one's familiar walks and avenues; while that which is most familiar is removed to delightful strangeness; and unmoving, one travels infinite causeways; immobile and thus unfettered.
Fans of Feed will appreciate this:
"When I peer into the reaches of the most distant futurity, I fear that even in some unseen epoch when there are colonies even upon the moon itself, there shall still be gatherings like this, where the young, blinded by privilege, shall dance and giggle and compare their poxy lesions."