Anderson, M.T. 1968- (Matthew Tobin Anderson)
Anderson, M.T. 1968- (Matthew Tobin Anderson)
Born November 4, 1968, in Cambridge, MA; son of Will (an engineer) and Juliana (an Episcopal priest) Anderson. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1987; Cambridge University, B.A. (English literature), 1991; Syracuse University, M.F.A. (creative writing), 1998.
Writer. Candlewick Press, Cambridge, MA, editorial assistant, 1993-96; Boston Review, intern; WCUW-Radio, disk jockey; Union Institute & University, Vermont College, Montpelier, visiting instructor in M.F.A. program in writing for children, 2000-06. 3rd bed (literary journal), fiction editor, 1999-2006.
Boston Globe/Horn Book Nonfiction Honor, 2002, for Handel, Who Knew What He Liked; National Book Award finalist, National Book Foundation, 2002, Best Book for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book designation for Fiction, and Los Angeles Times Book Award, all 2003, all for Feed; National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2006, Michael L. Prinz Award Honor Book designation, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Award in fiction and poetry, all 2007, all for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.
Thirsty, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
Burger Wuss, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
Feed, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, Candlewick Press, 2006.
Handel, Who Knew What He Liked (picture book), illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Strange Mr. Satie (picture book), illustrated by Petra Mathers, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 2003.
The Game of Sunken Places (middle-grade novel), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
The Serpent Came to Gloucester (picture book), illustrated by Bagram Ibatouline, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Whales on Stilts! (chapter book; "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" series), illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2005.
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen (chapter book; "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" series), illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2005.
Me, All Alone, at the End of the World (picture book), illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Improper Bostonian, BBC Music, Pulse!, and Cobblestones. Contributor of short story to Open Your Eyes: Extraordinary Experiences in Far Away Places, edited by Jill Davis, Viking (New York, NY), 2003. Adult fiction published in Northwest Review, Colorado Review, and Conjunctions.
Several books by Anderson have been adapted for audiobook, including Whales on Stilts!, Feed, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, all released by Listening Library.
Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his quirkily titled novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, M.T. Anderson is noted for penning young-adult novels that challenge readers to look at the world in new ways. "Writing is a kind of weakness, I think," Anderson once told SATA. "We write because we can't decipher things the first time around. As a reader, I like best those books in which the author, mulling things over for him or herself, enables readers to see a world anew." While Anderson's middle-grade novels, such as Whales on Stilts!, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, and The Game of Sunken Places, feature an entertaining mix of fantasy, mystery, and spine-tingling supernatural elements, novels such as Thirsty, about a teenage vampire, Feed, about rebellion against futuristic media control of the world, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, about the hypocrisy of Enlightenment-era morality, aim their wit and satire at society. "We are so used to the bizarre images, cabals, rituals, and rites that constitute our lives that they seem natural, even invisible, to us," Anderson explained. "I admire books that facilitate renewed awareness of the way we live, and this is what I'm attempting in my own work: renewed awareness both for myself and, I hope, for my readers. That's my goal, in any case."
Thirsty, set in a small town in Massachusetts, features a high school freshman named Chris who realizes that he is on the verge of growing into a vampire—despite his town's elaborate and ritualistic attempts to fight the dreaded monsters. "Chris's turbulent transformation … is paralleled by and inextricable from the changes of adolescence: insatiable appetite, sleepless nights, and a deep sense of insecurity and isolation," noted Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams. "The unusual blend of camp horror and realistic adolescent turmoil and the suspenseful plot affirm a new talent worth watching," Adams added of Anderson's fiction debut. A Kirkus Reviews critic also praised Thirsty, calling the book a "startling, savagely funny debut," and School Librarian contributor Julie Blaisdale deemed the work "at once creepy and yet extremely funny." While noting some flaws in the plot, a Publishers Weekly reviewer described Thirsty as a "vampire novel a bloody cut above the usual fare."
Anderson's young-adult novels Burger Wuss and Feed take place in settings that are both disturbing and familiar. In Burger Wuss teen narrator Anthony is determined to get revenge on another teen who has "stolen" his girlfriend. The romantic rival, Turner, is a hot-shot employee at the local burger joint, and by getting a job at the same restaurant Anthony begins enacting his revenge. According to a Publishers Weekly critic,
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"Anderson's witty tale of a lovelorn boy and his corporate antagonists is both a tasty read and a stinging satire." Focusing on the novel's abundant "black humor and satire," Booklist critic Jean Franklin cited "a marvelous parody of a television commercial" for particular praise. In Horn Book Peter D. Sieruta likewise commented on Anderson's "eye for the dark and demented aspects of everyday life," adding that Anthony's narration "serves up a lot of laughs."
Feed takes readers into a distant and frightening future in which the media controls the world and individuals are linked into the propagandizing system via an electronic feed inserted into the brain. Titus, a typical teen, is connected to the educational system as well as to entertainment, merchandise, and friends through this feed. The constant information stream means that there is little need to speak, read, or write. While vacationing on the moon with a group of friends, Titus meets Violet, who, having been home schooled, is somewhat of a Luddite in that she eschews the feed technology. When hackers temporarily disconnect the vacationers' brain feeds and Titus wakes up in the hospital, he experiences silence for the first time. Although Violet tries to recruit Titus to resist the feed and all it implies, the teen is unable to reject his previous lifestyle.
Reviewers saw much to like in Feed, particularly Anderson's wit and imagination. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel's plot "satire at its finest," and a Publishers Weekly critic described Titus as a "believably flawed hero" and the work a "thought-provoking and scathing indictment." According to Elizabeth Devereaux, writing in the New York Times Book Review, Anderson's novel is "subversive, vigorously conceived, [and] painfully situated at the juncture where funny crosses into tragic." Although Sharon Rawlins remarked in School Library Journal that "Violet and her father are the only truly sympathetic characters" in the book, the critic also asserted that Feed is a "gripping, intriguing, and unique cautionary novel." Several reviewers noted Anderson's use of language, particularly his tone and his creation of a unique dialect. "Anderson's hand is light throughout; his evocation of the death of language is as hilarious as it is frightening," wrote Horn Book critic Lauren Adams. "Inventive details help evoke a world that is chillingly plausible," Adams continued. "Like those in a funhouse mirror, the reflections the novel shows us may be ugly and distorted, but they are undeniably ourselves." Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award, Feed was also a finalist for the National Book Award, as well as a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book and an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults selection.
Described by Horn Book critic Vicky Smith as "an alternative narrative of [America's] … national mythology, one that fascinates, appalls, condemns," The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation takes readers back to the birth of the United States and an age when the influences of European Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau were meshing with the economic realities of industrialization. As recounted by Anderson in baroque prose, the circumstances of black, sixteen-year-old Octavian Nothing rapidly decline as revolutionary activities in his native Boston accelerate. Brought to the American colonies with his mother, an African princess, Octavian was raised in unique circumstances, amid an intellectual elite at the city's Novanglian College of Lucidity, where he was taught music and the classics. He also unknowingly served as the test subject of the college fellows, who were attempting to gauge the intelligence potential of blacks. Octavio gains an awareness of the outside world through his friendship with a slave named Pro Bono, but when the boy flees his insulated life after a college-mandated smallpox inoculation results in his mother's death, the outside world proves harsher than he ever imagined.
Praising the novel—both Octavian's narrative and the sequence of letters that comprise the second half of the
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book—as "stunningly well-researched," a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Anderson's "accessible" prose and "straight-forward" message … clearly delineates the hypocrisy of the Patriots," who both proclaim their right to freedom and quietly accept "the enslavement of people like Octavian." "Readers are seduced" by Anderson's "gothic introduction to the child Octavian," a Kirkus Reviews writer noted, calling the boy's "bizarre situation" in the Novanglian College of Lucidity "both lavish and eerie." "Teens need not understand all the historical and literary allusions to connect with Octavian's torment or to debate the novel's questions," Gillian Engberg maintained in her Booklist review while going on to note that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a "chaotic and highly accomplished" novel that "demands rereading."
In addition to his genre-defying books for teen readers, Anderson also writes for a younger audience, and has created picture-book texts as well as middle-grade chapter books. He shares his interest in music in picturebook biographies of eighteenth-century German-English composer George Frideric Handel and twentieth-century French composer Erik Satie. In Handel, Who Knew What He Liked Anderson illustrates the life of Handel
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through anecdotes related in what School Library Journal critic Wendy Lukehart described as a "saucy style [featuring] impeccable pacing, and a richness of content." One such anecdote focuses on how the young Handel—whose parents did not want him to become a musician—smuggled a clavichord into the attic of his parents' house. Others provide background to the composition of such works as the Music for the Royal Fireworks, which bombed upon its first performance; Handel's failure as an opera composer; and the creation of the Messiah oratorio, which would earn the composer lasting fame. Several reviewers commented on the appropriateness of Anderson's language and tone, among them a Publishers Weekly contributor, who dubbed the work "wittily irreverent." Using "plain words and short sentences," Anderson describes Handel's life "with warmth and color, humor and humanity," applauded Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan, and in Horn Book, Mary M. Burns deemed Handel, Who Knew What He Liked "worthy of a standing ovation." Burns also praised Anderson's balanced tone and his ability to create a "lively text, sufficiently detailed but not overburdened with minutiae."
In Strange Mr. Satie Anderson once again draws on his "offbeat" but compelling storytelling skills, in the opinion of Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido. An unusual man, Satie is not as universally known as Handel, but he had a lasting influence on modern music. In his day he was also known for his interesting lifestyle, throwing one girlfriend out of a window, never bathing with soap, and displaying a general disdain for rules, be they of music or society. Discussing Anderson's narrative style in Horn Book, Lolly Robinson claimed that the story's "words flow naturally and hypnotize the reader with oceanic rhythms." Similarly, DeCandido remarked that the author's "text has a fine rhythm, and it doesn't shirk at the strangeness" of the composer's life. Pointing out that Anderson's text mirrors Satie's own circular musical style, School Library Journal contributor Jody McCoy found in Strange Mr. Satie "a splendid alliance of topic, text, and illustration, produc[ing] a hauntingly compelling biography."
Other picture books featuring Anderson's text include Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, about a boy whose quiet home at the end of the world is transformed by magician-promoter Constantine Shimmer into an amusement park overrun by tourists, and The Serpent Came to Gloucester, a rhyming tale based on a sea-serpent sighting in coastal Massachusetts in 1817. Noting that Me, All Alone, at the End of the World "addresses some thought-provoking, philosophical issues," School Library Journal contributor Linda L. Walkins added that Kevin Hawkes' full-color illustrations for the book "resonate with old-fashioned charm." "Many will assume" that the text of The Serpent Came to Gloucester "came straight from some leather-bound volume of romantic poetry," maintained Jennifer Mattson in her Booklist review of Anderson's 2005 collaboration with illustrator Bagram Ibatouline, and Margaret Bush described the same work in School Library Journal as "an evocative introduction to poetic narrative, local legends, or an exploration of a tantalizing subject."
Anderson turns to preteen readers with The Game of Sunken Places, an intriguing chapter book that finds Gregory and brainy best friend Brian pulled into an alternative reality while spending a holiday at Grendle Manor, the rural Vermont mansion of Gregory's eccentric uncle Max. A discarded game board discovered in the woods near the manor is the key to this sinister alternative Vermont, and the boys must unravel the many rules and dimensions of the game—as well as deal with assorted trolls, monsters, and other beasties—in order to return to their own world. With "colorful prose" and an ability to "dexterously juggl[e] … a seemingly impossible profusion of elements," The Game of Sunken Places "builds to a climactic series of surprises that … will almost certainly dazzle readers," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor concluded that middle graders "willing to suspend every ounce of disbelief will be rewarded by this smart, consciously complex offering," and Mattson wrote in Booklist that the novel is "deliciously scary, often funny, and crowned by a pair of deeply satisfying surprises."
Comprising the "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" series, Whales on Stilts! and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen introduce Lily Gefelty, Jasper Dash, and Katie Mulligan. Following the time-honored traditions established by the series fiction of generations past, these three friends discover a plot by a mad scientist to marshal an army of sea mammals and take over the world in Whales on Stilts! This revelation prompts them to shoulder the task of saving mankind when parents—including Lily's absentminded professor father—prove unmoved by their worries. The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen finds the trio looking forward to a vacation at the Moose Tongue Lodge. However, after arriving at the mountain retreat they realize that they are not the only junior sleuths there; in fact, all sorts of fictional sleuthing teams are sharing the vacation spot. When a princess's priceless necklace disappears, followed by several examples of the taxidermist's art, Lily and company prove their sleuthing superiority. Featuring "an array of adjectives, non-sequiturs, bizarre asides, irrelevant footnotes and running gags," Whales on Stilts! is a humorous send-up of "decades of children's book series," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor, while Smith wrote in Horn Book that the "narrative gleefully revels in each cliché it exploits." "Anderson's mind is a very strange place," quipped a Kirkus Reviews contributor, noting that the "almost indescribable wackiness" of Whales on Stilts! "is further proof." Sharing this assessment, Smith wrote of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen that the author's "second send-up of kids' series books is, if possible, even more self-consciously metaliterary than his first."
In addition to remaining unpredictable and unclassifiable, Anderson's books continue to be acknowledged for their sophisticated wit and storylines. Asked by a Kirkus Reviews interviewer whether he worries that his tales might be too complex for younger readers, Anderson responded: "I think many adults underestimate kids' intelligence and capacity, and I think that's a big problem. I prefer to delude myself that we're a nation of geniuses, all just waiting to unfold."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 15, 1999, Jean Franklin, review of Burger Wuss, p. 613; December 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, p. 727; October 15, 2002, Frances Bradburn, review of Feed, pp. 400-401; January 1, 2003, review of Feed, p. 795; November 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 512; April 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 512; June 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Serpent Came to Gloucester, p. 1805; November 15, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, p. 44; May 1, 2006, John Peters, review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, p. 48; September 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, p. 110.
Book Report, September-October, 1997, Charlotte Decker, review of Thirsty, p. 30.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1997, review of Thirsty, p. 269; November, 2002, review of Feed, p. 95; September, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 5; September, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 5; April, 2005, Krista Hutley, review of Whales on Stilts!, p. 325; July-August, 2005, review of The Serpent Came to Gloucester, p. 476; July-August, 2006, Loretta Gaffney, review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, p. 487; November, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 112.
General Music Today, winter, 2002, Richard Ammon, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, p. 31.
Horn Book, May-June, 1997, Lauren Adams, review of Thirsty, p. 313; November, 1999, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Burger Wuss, p. 732; November-December, 2001, Mary M. Burns, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, pp. 767-768; September-October, 2002, Lauren Adams, review of Feed, pp. 564-566; September-October, 2003, Lolly Robinson, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 624; March-April, 2005, Vicky Smith, review of Whales on Stilts!, p. 197; May-June, 2006, Vicky Smith, review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, p. 309; September-October, 2006, Vicky Smith, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 573.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of Thirsty, p. 56; September 15, 2001, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, p. 1352; September 1, 2002, review of Feed, p. 1301; August 1, 2003, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 1011; June 15, 2004, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 575; April 1, 2005, review of Whales on Stilts!, p. 411; June 1, 2005, review of The Serpent Came to Gloucester, p. 632; September 1, 2005, review of All Alone, at the End of the World, p. 968; June 1, 2006, review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, p. 568; September 15, 2006, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 945; December 1, 2006, interview with Anderson.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Feed, p. 5; September, 2003, Erin Lukens Darr, review of Thirsty, p. 23; September, 2006, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 6.
New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2002, Elizabeth Devereaux, review of Feed, p. 47; December 8, 2002, review of Feed, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1997, review of Thirsty, p. 108; August 2, 1999, review of Burger Wuss, p. 86; October 15, 2001, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, p. 72; July 22, 2002, review of Feed, p. 181; September 1, 2003, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 89; July 12, 2004, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 64; May 16, 2005, reviews of The Serpent Came to Gloucester, p. 62, and Whales on Stilts!, p. 63; September 18, 2006, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 56.
School Librarian, fall, 1998, Julie Blaisdale, review of Thirsty, p. 155.
School Library Journal, March, 1997, Joel Shoemaker, review of Thirsty, p. 184; December, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, p. 117; September, 2002, Sharon Rawlins, review of Feed, p. 219; October, 2003, Jody McCoy, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 143; May, 2005, Walter Minkel, review of Whales on Stilts!, p. 120; December, 2005, Linda L. Walkins, review of Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, p. 100; April, 2006, Ann Crewdson, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 80; October, 2006, Sharon Rawlins, review of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, p. 147; November, 2006, interview with Anderson.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1998, review of Thirsty, p. 40; December, 2002, review of Feed, p. 394; June, 2004, Michael Levy, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 139; June, 2004, Joel Shoemaker, interview with Anderson, p. 98.
Cynsations,http://www.cyndialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (September 12, 2005), Cynthia Leitich-Smith, interview with Anderson.