The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

Honestly I'm not sure how I feel about The Benefits of Being an Octopus. It wasn't a bad book but It's  not my favorite. I like that for a middle grade book some heavy topics were covered in a straightforward way. Also I love the cover,it is so nice to look at!!
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This book was such an easy read with a focus on siblings that i thoroughly enjoyed as well as sense of self and confidence.
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This book was fabulous, I not only will be adding to my collection but have been recommending it to teachers for classroom and student book club usage. It is a very accurate snapshot of the child struggling within a poverty stricken family.
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This book tackles some heavy topics for middle grade- poverty and domestic abuse, but does it well. I will be adding this book to the classroom library.
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This is one of my favorite middle grade novels of the year! I just loved how real it was. I think many students will see themselves in this story. I have been telling everyone about it.
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There are good books and there are bad ones. “The Benefits of Being an Octopus” is somewhere in the middle. I have not felt for characters or a plot, they seemed too simple for me. But I liked the background of a story – poor Americans living in the trailers.

For foreigners America is a dream country. A place, where you can come and begin a happy life without poorness. And even if poverty exists – it’s only for immigrants, who don’t want to work hard, or so we’ve been told by stereotypes. But this Ann Braden’s book show us that Americans can be poor too. It was unusual to read about life in trailers and how many violence still exists in such lives.

This review won’t be long, just because I didn’t get a lot of emotions reading “The Benefits of Being an Octopus”. I got more pleasure looking at this wonderful cover, than reading the book. Even the main character was not the one to like or dislike. She was just okay or maybe even a little boring? The thing with her imagining herself as octopus was interesting, but didn’t fit in the book as good as I hoped for. Sometimes it was annoying. 

Maybe this book needs to be like this – a simple story, a little boring, as our everyday lives can be. That’s why I am so apathetic to this book. Or maybe I read it in a wrong time and that’s the reason I didn’t get much pleasure from reading “The Benefits of Being an Octopus”. Anyway, I hope that’s just me, not a book.
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We need stories of poverty. More importantly, we need to see stories not of sudden poverty, but of long term struggles, of poverty as a general way of life. We need to see it as an ongoing reality rather than a quick loss and desperation to escape. We need to see it in degrees. And that's what Braden gives us here. This is a family that has been functionally homeless, jumping between housing situations. They stay in an emotionally unhealthy place because it is physically stable and finding anything else requires too much financial commitment. Braden explores the demands on caregiving children, the complexities of an abusive home, the gun debate, and, to a small degree, our cultural relationship with foster care. Some of these plot elements didn't entirely land. The opinions in the student gun debate are overly simplified and dismissive. Fuchsia's sub plot, too, is overly simplistic. With it's high concept ideas I would hesitate to spring it on unsuspecting young readers, but in the right environment it could inspire some wonderful and thought-provoking follow-up conversations.
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This is a hard review to write. Not because it's a bad review, but because I have so many feelings about this book. All the feels. Tous les feels. My biggest feelings are both sadness and hope, both drawn with care and grace through Ann Braden's incredible writing. 

Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus is an emotional story of a young girl (7th grade) learning to take control of her life through difficult conditions. While this book is theoretically written for middle schoolers, I'm glad I picked it up. The writing itself is aimed for that age group staying simple and accessible. However, it never feels like she's dumbing down the language and is still approachable for higher level readers. 

Focusing on the experiences of Zoey, Braden's book, delves into what it's like to live through poverty and cycles of non-violent abuse. There's nothing particularly graphic or traumatizing about the content, and instead gives a great example of emotional abuse that isn't ok. At times Zoey does feel far more mature than the usual 7th grader. For instance, she learns and identifies behavioral issues that most adults struggle to identify. These moments provide a great show/learning moment for younger readers and a good reminder for older readers.

In focusing on Zoey's particular point of view, Braden has found a way to discuss a wider range of topics than just the poverty and abuse issues that Zoey herself is dealing with in her life. She uses education and background conversation to introduce without fully discussing wider ranging topics such as being careful about judging others and gun violence. While she does bring in some politics on the gun issue, she manages to give a rounded point of view that isn't hard one way or the other. A good learning moment for any middle schooler in this day and age where gun violence is already something that many students in the US may already be concerned about.

Ultimately, a very sweet book about a strong young girl facing not insurmountable difficulties, but definitely hard challenges, and learning to stand up for herself and others.

Please note: This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This book was one of the best books I've read this year!  I loved the character of Zoey.  She has so many responsibilities for a young girl. 

Zoey is not doing well in school and at home she is a caretaker of her siblings for much of each day.  She moves through this story as an octopus would move through the ocean, hiding while in plain sight.  Throughout the story she learns to accept herself as a strong young lady with many opinions that need to be heard. 

Her teacher introduces Zoey to debate and this club changes her view of herself. She becomes stronger and is able to make changes in her life to help those around her.  

If you have students who are shy and you want to help them learn about how to speak up and empower themselves, this is the book for them!  I run a debate team and I am going to purchase this book for each of my debates. I know they will love it.  Thank you for writing such a deep, thoughtful story and sharing Zoey with us!  We are all better for meeting her and learning about the power of voice!
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This book was SO amazing! It covers some really tough topics in a really great way for the age group it is written towards. It touches on gun control, domestic abuse, bullying and teaching that even though you might be young you still have a voice and need to use it. Zoey is such a strong, intelligent main character and I instantly felt for her and her situation. She learns to stand up not only for herself but for her mother and her friends. I also really loved her teacher and hope there are some out there in real life like her. I would love to see all middle and even high school students reading this book. There is so much to learn from it!

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Skyhorse Publishing and Netgalley!
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I loved this book and what it had to say and show. There is a big misconception out there that most poor people are lazy and don't work, or don't work hard enough. This story shows how people get caught up in the circle of just getting by which pivots on greedy people with the means to buy property charging too much for rentals that are barely livable and the people who have to live in them because they don't get paid a livable wage for doing hard work other people stick their noses up at; like emptying the soiled diaper bins at the nursing home and cleaning them out. Doing that every day, but never having any extra money, so you have to wear worn out clothes and you can't pay for dentist so your teeth go bad and that pretty much kills your chances to get a better job. I hope everyone reads this book, regardless of age, because most Haves dont seem to get what most Have-Nots go through to survive, and how substandard living conditions and scraping by affect how people act and react with one another.

The story also shows how just one adult understanding and believing in a child can change the trajectory of that child's life; and how when women come together to help each other out and lift each other up, instead of seeing each other as rivals, they can lay a foundation to build a better life for themselves and their children. Wonderful messages to be giving in a Middle Grade book.

I myself see this more as Young Adult. It's written the way YA (teen) books used to be written before all the YA publishing money-wheel spinning started. The characters are in seventh grade. It's nice to see a book written about teens still being appropriate, content wise, for most of the 7-11 readership.

The one star subtraction comes from the head-scratching inclusion of a thread about hunting bobcats. At one point I thought it was going to lead to the subject of some people using hunting as a way to put food on the table, but that was never discussed. Then I thought it was going to be a twist and have them find a bobcat, after spending months tracking them, and shoot it with a camera instead of a gun, to say if you are hunting for "sport" and the thrill of the hunt why not a framed photo instead of a stuffed dead trophy. However, a conversation about whether or not they were in season came into play. There were too many confusing inclusions about gun ownership, and frankly the whole gun ownership question wasn't needed in this story. A debate subject about universal healthcare, or a living wage, would have fit in better for making the final debate point.
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This book breathes such story into the challenges of poverty - especially for moms and kids.  I loved it and think its a perfect choice for a parent/child book club 3rd grade and up. Probably 4th grade and up independently.
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This book has so many cool things about it. I loved that Zoey joins the debate club at school (even though at first she’s an unwilling participant). Her natural talent shows in the way she approaches problems and cares for her siblings, which made it so easy to cheer for her as she battled anxiety about speaking in front of her classmates. I loved her teacher, too. So many moments between Zoey and her teacher had me all teary-eyed. They share a kind of understanding that only someone who’s been through a similar thing can share, and it obviously changes Zoey’s life.

Zoey’s relationship with her mom also gripped me. Because her mom works, Zoey cares for her siblings a lot of the time, and sometimes relates to her mom more as a peer rather than as parent to child. Some of that is kind of sad, but it also showed the way that your relationship with a parent changes as you reach middle school age and start thinking about things differently. I loved the way Zoey’s debate club strategies became the tools she used at home, and the way those same lessons helped her uncover unhealthy patterns in her family.

In the acknowledgements, the author talks about how someone asked her to write about rural poverty so that kids growing up in those situations would have a chance to see themselves in a book. I’m so glad she did. This book made me think of so many kids.

One of the really fun things about the book is the way Zoey uses imagery about octopus behavior to describe how she feels at different times or things she wishes she could do (like have extra hands to manage her three small siblings). I loved those descriptions and how they appeared consistently through the book.
I actually picked up a copy of this book after reading another blogger’s review of it, and I’m so very glad I did. I need to go back and comment on the review say thanks! The Benefits of Being an Octopus definitely deserves a read. This is one of my top favorites for this year.
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THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS was a great moving middle grade book. I think there needs to be more out there about ordinary day to day problems middle grade readers go through. It shows them that is it okay and that there are others like them. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to middle grade readers looking for a contemporary book to read.
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This is a powerful story for young people.

Many important themes were explored in this story, such as poverty and abuse. Zoey takes care of her siblings while her mom works. She learns that her mother is in an abusive relationship, and Zoey tries to find a way out of it. Even though she is a child, she knows she can and must do something to help her mother.

Her friend Fuchsia faces similar problems. Her mother’s boyfriend threatens Fuchsia if she reports her mother to family services. Fuchsia feels trapped, as if she cannot tell her mother because she won’t believe her, so she is ready to accept her future. Zoey has to show her that she can stand up for herself.

Zoey is a very strong character. She stands up for many people in this book, including her siblings, her mother, and her friends. Though some parts were difficult to read about, these are real situations that happen to kids all the time. I really enjoyed this book.
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For seventh grader Zoey Albro, living in Vermont in a trailer with her mother, three siblings, step father Lenny and his father Frank, life really isn't easy. It's her job to get Bryce and Aurora up, dressed and out for school every morning. And after school, Zoey has to care for  them while her mother works in a low wage job waiting tables in pizza shop, then make sure the kids get dinner, eaten in their bedroom so they don't get in Lenny's way or disturb Frank's constant TV watching, and get them to bed, and hope sleep isn't interrupted one of by Bryce's nightmares that began after they moved in with Lenny.

Zoey's dislike for Lenny is no secret, but it is mutual. She hates that he constantly berates her mother for doing things wrong, ignores her, Bryce and Aurora, and only paying attention to his son Hector. And now, Lenny has lost his job.

So, even though she would like to do it, there just isn't any time for Zoey to work on her homework, not even the latest assignment - a debate prep packet on the topic Which animal is best? That's easy for Zoey, who knows that being an octopus is the best, and she already has all the information she needs to support her argument. She often thinks that if she had all those arms, she could do so much more to make life easier for the kids and her mom. Besides, an octopus has the ability to camouflage itself when it needs to hide, something she would really like to be able to do, especially at school.

Where her teachers are always disappointed that she hasn't done the required work, her only friends are Silas, a loner who loved to go hunting with his father, and Fuchsia, a girl with her own serious issues. Zoey never speaks in class, preferring to try to be invisible, and yet, always subjected to bullying by the other kids in school.

Filling in the debate prep may have been an easy task for Zoey, but then, of course, she would have to speak in front of the class. First, she forgets her packet, then when given another chance, she lies and says she has forgotten it again. When her Social Studies teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, discovers the Zoey's debate prep packet in the trash and reads it, she begins to see her in a different light and insists that she join the debate team, even offering to drive her to where the school bus lets Bryce and Aurora off in the afternoon so she can still babysit them.

At first, Zoey has not interest in participating in the debate club, and having to work with who make no secret of what they think of her. But the more she learns about the art of debating, the more she begins to understand the way her stepfather has been manipulating and verbally abusing her mother and why her once strong, independent mother has become cowed by his treatment.

But can Zoey put her new debating skills into practice and convince her mother to leave Lenny and their toxic relationship before it is too late? And where would they go?

I had a hard time collecting my thoughts about this novel. Certainly, from a teacher's perspective, I thought it was great - here was a teacher who looked beyond the obvious and found the real Zoey, a girl who needed support, encouragement, but mostly validation.

The Benefits of Being a Octopus is told from Zoey's point of view, in the first person present. Her narration is open and honest, at times, brutally honest. Zoey is a smart, strong, courageous girl with way too many responsibilities put on her shoulders by the (supposed) adults around her, who should have been taking care of her, not the other way around.

Braden has put Zoey in a difficult life - she and her family seem to have alway lived in poverty. She's never known her father, though Bryce and Aurora's father was in the picture for a while before leaving, and only baby Hector belongs to Lenny. Clothes and toys are bought second hand and Zoey's mom is eligible for public assistance. This is real realistic fiction and Braden's writing is as hard-hitting and matter of fact as Zoey's story.

And yet, it is also a book with a message of hope. It would take a lot of strength to get up every morning and face Zoey's day, but she does it without too much resentment but a lot of humiliation. Gradually, thanks to the rules of debate and Ms. Rochambeau's belief in her, that changes and Zoey can see her way out of the terrible circumstances they are in because of being so poor and dependent on Lenny for a roof over their heads.

Zoey may have wished she has eight arms so she could get everything done herself, but in the end, it is a combination of her own resilience and determination, and the arms of those around her reaching out that ultimately help her find her way in this well crafted coming of age novel.

My only regret: The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a book I wish I had had to share with my students when I was teaching 4th grade in the Bronx.

You can download a very useful Educator's Guide for this book on Ann Braden's website HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley
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7th-grader Zoey has her hands full and thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: 8 arms to do 8 things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses. Unfortunately, she’s not invisible, and a teacher forces her to join the debate club. Even though she resists participating, it leads her to see things in a new way… Explore the cultural divides around class and the gun debate.

The short review...

Frankly my dear... I freakin loved this book! If there were books like The Benefits of Being an Octopus when I was a middle grader I would have fallen in love with reading a lot, lot sooner. In fact, I didn't really see this as a middle grade book at all because it didn't really read like one. It totally had this YA vibe where I felt like I was really hearing Zoey's story from her perspective (I didn't feel like I was being talked down to!) I didn't feel like I had to make concessions in the plot because it was MG. BUT you know what... she doesn't whine at all, while still giving you the low down on her life which is far from perfect! Honestly even YA readers could read and enjoy the realistic portrayal of abuse, poverty and school life.

While there is some crushing going on I really, really liked that there was no romance (this should have clued me in to the MG label!) but that it totally centered on Zoey's life. That's a good thing as she had a TON going on and really doesn't have room for romance! This is very true to life and that is really what this book is all about... Touching on themes and events that are quite relatable and giving them a hard but loving look. I'll end with a quote because I really think that will do the trick as far as convincing you that you NEED to read this book...

    "If I were an octopus, things would be so much easier. I'd have one arm to wipe Aurora's nose. Two more for holding both kids' hands when I pick them up from the Head Start bus stop to keep Bryce from wandering into the street after some rock he's spotted. One to hold Hector and his diaper bag on the afternoons when my mom works at the Pizza Pit. One to adjust my shirt because it doesn't really fit and it can get too revealing if I'm not paying attention, and I don't want to be "that girl." One so I could do my homework at least some of the time if I wanted. One to pick up Cheerios that are always on the floor. And the last one to swipe a can of Easy Cheese from the Cumberland Farms convenience store. Because little snowmen out of Easy Cheese are the most magical thing little kids have ever seen."

(BUT if it doesn't then read on for 7 reasons that The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a #mustread even if its middle grade!)

Cover & Title grade -> A+

The title, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is certainly WHY I picked up the book. The title is killer and I wasn't disappointed in the least about the contents being about just that... The cover though is pretty neat as well. I think the best thing about it is how the figure representing Zoey really does look like a 7th grader. It gives you a hint that this is for middle grade readers, which I really appreciate! I also really loved how the octopus is her shadow... It's a simple design but effective and promotes what works so well in the story.

Why should ALL readers pick up The Benefits of Being an Octopus even though its middle grade?

-The octopus facts and symbolism!
I would quote every time octopus were mentioned except that would ruin the experience! You really need to read this, the connections of octopus to Zoey and how she deals with everything is quite delightful.

-The show of poverty!
The quite gives you a sense of what I'm talking about... Zoey isn't complaining... She doesn't want her siblings gone... she wants to be able to take care of them better! It's upbeat but realistic and will grab you by the throat...

-The mental health!
The abuse in this book and how its handled is so, so good... (I don't want to give spoilers, but) I really enjoyed Zoey's part in it all. From her initial perspective, to her realization and then to her brainstorming how to deal with the problem.

-How debate fit into the problem!
GAH!!! This aspect of the story is so spot on... The detail that Ann went into was perfect. And her teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, awwww I loved her so much. The debate part of the story was so good, I wanted even more, but Ann kept it really balanced with everything else.

-School life and peer pressure!
Peer pressure is real and even the outcasts and those on the edges give in to it because its better than being the one on the hot seat. I quite enjoyed how Zoey handled all this... and that it wasn't just some mean girl bullies that we've seen a bunch of times.

-Fuchsia and making friends!
Oh Fuchsia! I did not see all that coming with her friend and when you have things going on its quite easy to neglect friends... Zoey realizes this too in the course of the story. And she reaches out when she didn't need to... LOVE this!

-Her family and siblings!
I adored Aurora and Bryce and how Zoey saw her home life. I felt like this was one of the most realistic perspectives illustrated in the book, because it was positive, aware that life wasn't perfect, but also problematic in a realistic way.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is actually a book I would love to read a sequel from! This is almost unheard of from me (in fact, I don't think I've ever said this about a YA contemporary standalone!) but I really like Zoey and could definitely stick with her for another portion of her life as she deals with the changes that are just starting at the end of this novel.

Really I would not be surprised if this is really the memoir of some child out in the world that Ann Braden merely transcribed! (I'm sure its NOT that...) It's just that the narrative read so natural... This is the ultimate compliment from me... I just felt like I was with Zoey the entire time. I was experiencing what she was in the way that she would do things.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a real look inside of abuse and poverty and what it means to be a middle schooler trying to deal with that on top of school and friends. Ann Braden is a debut author that I will look forward to reading more from... She totally captured me with Zoey, the octopus girl whose courage is awe-inspiring! (It made it to my Best-of-2018 shelf for a reason...)
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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way effects my overall rating of this book.

This book broke my heart into a million pieces. It’s rare when I’m completely engulfed in a book and feel so much for the characters and what they’re going through. But I felt for these characters so much. I felt their desperation and their struggles and every raw emotion they experienced.

The book follows our protagonist Zoey. She lives in a small trailer with her three younger siblings, her mother, her mother’s boyfriend that provides for them, and his friend that often stays there. Zoey has social anxiety (though it’s not explicitly stated in the text) and is always teased and bullied in school for her appearance and ‘stink’ since she lives in a trailer park and her family barely has any money to get food on the table.

At the beginning of the novel, Zoey is in a state of mind where she misses her old mom that used to smile and be fun and be a mom. She isn’t sure where she fits in, and she is always letting others talk about her in bad ways. She has absolutely no self-confidence and is scared of others.

“An octopus might start out defenseless, but it sure doesn’t stay that way.”

She grows exponentially by the end of the novel. I loved reading about how she became stronger and started standing up for herself, the things she believes in, and others she cares about. Zoey might be one of the younger protagonists I’ve read about – 14 or 15 years old – but she was definitely up there as one of the smartest and strongest I’ve ever read.

As a character, Zoey is wonderful. She’s flawed and made decisions that had me frustrated but they were realistic. She joined the debate club at her school but she isn’t confident enough to stand up and talk so she would skip or run out of class. This was annoying but realistic.

I also loved that even though she grew a lot and became more outspoken by the end of the book, her personality and the way she acted didn’t change. She was still the same person, but stronger and more resilient.

Family was such a large focus of the book, as Zoey spends most of her time outside of school taking care of her younger siblings. Her mom is either at work, cooking dinner and running errands for her boyfriend Lenny, or sleeping so Zoey becomes the main caretaker for her younger sister and brothers. Their family might not be perfect, but they stick together against all odds which is what’s most important.

This book might be classified as middle grade but it read almost like a young adult due to the serious topics that are discussed such as domestic abuse and gun control. I think that these topics were handled very well by the author and written wonderfully given the intended age group of the readers and the age of the protagonist.

Overall this was a wonderful book that I read super quick. Whenever I picked up the book and started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. I recommend this to anyone looking for a book with heart, lovable (and hate-able) characters, and important topics.

**TW: domestic abuse, gun violence, bullying**
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This  is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships that I couldn’t put down. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings live with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, avoiding making a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, trying-to-stay-hidden Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s this activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better… I hope this book encourages kids to consider what makes a healthy relationship and how to stand up for yourself when you’re not in one.
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The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a debut novel that deals with the realities of poverty, gun and domestic violence – all through the eyes of a seventh grade girl who’s more used to caring for her siblings than she is for herself.

The Benefits of Being An Octopus CoverSome people can do their homework, some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.


I received an eARC of The Benefits of Being An Octopus from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus has some really great representation, but it makes it an incredibly hard book to read.  Braden did a great job at making the reader feel the hopelessness that Zoey felt at the beginning of the novel, and slowly lightening it up as their family pulled their heads from underwater.

This novel needs trigger warnings for domestic abuse (mental and emotional), gaslighting, gun violence, a shooting outside of a school, bullying, severe anxiety, mentions of asthma attacks, and neglectful parents.

While there were a lot of great aspects to this novel, everything moved so quickly that it was hard for the impact of everything going on to really hit. It honestly ties in with the metaphor of the octopus that Zoey kept talking about. I felt like I really needed 8 hands to get a handle on everything happening.

However, Braden showed some real skill in the writing of this novel. I hope that this book will help other readers find the strength to get out of these situations as they recognize them. You can pick up a copy of The Benefits of Being an Octopus for yourself from Amazon or Indiebound.
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