The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

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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Story of a young girl who learns that sometimes choices aren't so black and white. Zoey has a hard life with a lot on her plate. I know there are many kids out there who can relate to this. Others who can't but need to read this to understand their perspectives. I love the message of  being a stronger person and sticking up for yourself.
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Rating 4/5

This was my first middle-school level read I've read in years. I asked for a copy because I had heard good things about it and wanted to see if it indeed have the values I"ve heard of. 

This is a story about a pre-teen girl named Zoey who has lived with domestic abuse and poverty. As a result, the novel starts off with her having low self-esteem and self-worth. But as it progresses, she learns to adapt by developing her voice and strength despite being bullied. 

I admired her perseverance and growth. Majority of youth nowadays are bullied daily in one form or another, and to be able to relate to someone who has had the strength to develop her own confidence and be her own heroine is a very important tale to be shared. We should all know it is never right to be bullied or to do the bullying and so we must instill these values as soon as a child is able to comprehend the importance and the difference. Failure to do so doesn't improve the situation and keeps society the way it is today.

Overall, this is a quick read with fantastic values. It focuses on what's important and doesn't stray from the ideals that should be taken from this. I really enjoyed it and think that this should be considered as a school read for middle school english classes.
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For a seventh grader, Zoey is dealing with a lot. She's shouldering a lot of responsibilities for her young siblings, trying to keep up at school, and worried about her mother, money, and food. Kids will empathize with Zoey when they read her story and, hopefully, recognize that others may be dealing with more than they could possibly imagine. A well-written middle-grade novel that should be part of classroom libraries from Grades 5 and up.
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Middle Grade novels don't usually dig deep, which is why The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a rare find for avid young readers who are actually looking to read about things that matter and things that connect them to the real world. And yes, those readers ARE out there. The Benefits of Being an Octopus touches on issues of homelessness and child protective services, the gun control debate, and trailer parks in an even-handed, open way.  A worthwhile read for tweens and teens alike and even librarians and kid lit fans, too!

I gave it four stars instead of five due to the ending, which, while satisfying in terms of plot, felt quite rushed, as though a waiter was taking away my plate before I was finished. But overall, a very enjoyable read with memorable characters and thought-provoking topics.
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From the cover and name, I expected The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden to be a light hearted children’s read. Instead, it turned out to be the most thought provoking book I’ve read this year.

Zoey is 12. She’s never had a privileged life that we’re all so accustomed to but she is managing. My heart broke when I read about the conditions these children were living in.

However, the novel doesn’t simply try to make the reader sympathize with the characters but instead shows how she stands up for herself and wants more in life. It has wonderful characters like Ms. Rochambeau, a teacher who identifies Zoey’s struggles and potential and offers her opportunities.

I have to mention one character that I inadvertently related to the most. Zoey has a classmate named Matt, who though well-meaning, is from a happy and well-to-do home and is unable to understand the struggles that her family and so many others face. I often forget to be thankful for what I’ve been given by my parents and to help those who haven’t been afforded the same. Matt was a gentle but firm reminder of that.
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Fantastic book depicting one girl's journey toward courage and finding her own voice in order to change her circumstances.
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A contemporary with strong female characters, with a sad and heartbreaking background. It's well written, the story is captivating, but I found the ending a little quicker than expected.
I learn a lot of interesting things about octopus! I love octopus, that's why I requested this book!
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Meet Zoey, a seventh-grader who somehow juggles her school activities, being responsible for her three younger siblings, and worrying over her mother’s slowly diminished confidence. If only she could be an octopus with eight arms, ink as a defense, and the ability to camouflage herself in awkward situations. One day Zoey discovers exactly why her mother has shrunk beyond recognition and, in utter frustration, she finds a brave and powerful voice both at home and at school. We witness far more than a comfy story — we’re offered a glimpse into the desperation a single parent can experience as they attempt to find a suitable home for their children. What might appear as negligence to one person is sometimes a best case scenario for another. Over time we see that it really takes a village to raise a child AND that we can overcome even the worst of issues when we listen to one another and work together. What a gift to peek through this emotional window and experience a new level of empathy. I’m pleased to know this book will also be a mirror for those who need relatable characters–powerful characters who discover they don’t need a lot of money to make a difference in the lives of others.  This is a much-needed title in any middle grade collection. I'm grateful to Sky Pony Press and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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As a middle school librarian in a title I school I am always looking for books where my students can see themselves in the characters. This is definitely a powerful title that I will book talk and feature on the shelves. It's a story of poverty, the gun debate, emotional abuse, bullying, and gaining confidence with lessons that are inferred rather than blasted in your face. 

Zoey lives with her mom, stepdad, his dad, and her three siblings in a trailer park. Her real dad is long gone, as well as two of her siblings' dad. They live paycheck to paycheck barely making ends meet. School should be a refuge, but it's not. She often does not have the resources to do her schoolwork. Her clothes are not always clean. However, she does have a good friend, Fuschia. 

Zoey's  favorite living creature is the octopus. Throughout the book, the octopus plays a role in helping her cope. A teacher plays a hand in helping Zoey by getting her involved in the debate club. Zoey finds her voice. 

This book will stick with you long after you're done. I will be recommending it to adults as well as teens. Adults need their eyes opened to the realities of poverty. Empathy is on every page. I can't wait to see Ann Braden's next book.
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This book is another incredible example of the important and difficult topics being addressed in middle grade fiction. I'm so glad that young readers are getting the opportunity to see character like Zoey, who struggle with caring for younger siblings, living without many of the basic necessities we often take for granted, dealing with parents and step parents who are unable to care for them, and lack of self confidence that accompanies many of these challenges.

There is a lot material in this book that would generate excellent classroom discussions, and I'd love to see teachers purchasing it for their libraries. It will definitely have a place as one of my most memorable reads of 2018.
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This book tackles difficult topics such as poverty and abuse from the perspective of Zoey, a 7th grader who has more responsibilities than a 7th grader should. We see the world she shares with her mother, her mother's boyfriend and her three siblings through her eyes. We see her grow and learn and "find brave." This book is unlike any I have read and it shares and important perspective. Every teacher should read this and get it into the hands of kids.
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'The Benefits of Being an Octopus' is Ann Braden's wonderful children's debut, that both taught and humbled me as an adult reader. The story is one of poverty, prejudice and the seemingly insurmountable odds that many families and children experience. It focuses on seventh grader (year eight in England and Wales) Zoey and her brave fight to overcome the odds that are stacked against her. Make no mistake, this is a powerful story with a beautiful message and an incredible heroine to boot!

A timeless and enduring tale that lets kids know they are not alone in their struggles. Unfortunately, poverty still persists, but what was once believed - that those born into poverty will remain in poverty - is no longer as black and white, although it is certainly now rearing its ugly head once more thanks to government cuts in both the UK and US. Of course, this ultimately leads back to the issue of capitalistic societies, but I don't wish to go into that in any great detail. The problem with capitalism is that it leads to a powerful and affluent few and an impoverished and oppressed many. Despite the riches some people have accumulated, most of which they will never need to live a comfortable life, there are many out there with barely two pennies to rub together.

This exquisitely written tale of overcoming overwhelming odds and thriving despite adversity will be enjoyed by kids and appreciated by adults. It looks at topical issues of class, poverty and the moral ambiguity of gun ownership, within the context and short duration of the story. Please don't make the mistake that this fantastic book is only for children and youngsters; I feel we adults could learn some important lessons here too. There should be more books like this, but for each one I am grateful, especially when they are as evocative and emotionally resonant as this one. We need to empower those living in difficult circumstances to escape the poverty trap, but a lot of other things need to change to make this possible. Braden's book will have a big impact on whoever decides to read it, and I for one look forward to reading her future work!

Many thanks to Sky Pony Press for an ARC. I was not required to post a review, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
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“Why can’t that kid just do her homework?  If she wants to improve her life, she needs an education.  I’m just trying to prepare her for the future.” These are the kinds of comments I’ve heard over the years as an educator.  Ann Braden makes us all feel ashamed for those judgmental thoughts about kids who are caught in the cycle of poverty.  Braden’s seventh grade character, Zoey, is smart, curious, and sensitive.  She is also drowning in responsibility, embarrassment, and worry.  Caring for her three younger siblings after school and keeping the peace in the home they all share with her mother’s nice boyfriend takes all of her energy.  School projects and packets are just not a priority to Zoey’s survival.  As difficult as her life is now, Zoey remembers when things were worse.  She is hyper-protective of her mother’s boyfriend’s nice house, with nice furniture, nice curtains, and nice lamps.  In her innocence, she does not understand why her mother--who used to be so competent--is now making mistakes all the time, which makes her nice boyfriend mad.  If her mother keeps messing up, will they lose everything that is nice in their lives?  If only Zoey could be as powerful as an octopus.  She is an expert on this magnificent creature, due to an old video from the library free box and a book given to her by a kind teacher.  As she studies the power of the octopus, she taps into her own inner powers.  If only she could have multiple arms for carrying and comforting her siblings.  If only she could sense danger and slide silently to safety with her tentacles.  If only she could find a way to camouflage herself when she needs to go unnoticed. One person who does take notice of Zoey is her social studies teacher. This empathetic educator sees something of her younger self in her underperforming student, and she pushes Zoey to focus on school and, more importantly, to find her stand up and to speak her truth.  By doing so, Zoey sees her mother’s truth and, in turn, pushes this overworked, mentally abused young woman to stand up and protect herself, thereby protecting her children.  In the end, Zoey realizes that nice things cannot substitute for safety, peace, and love.  She understands that she has her own power to affect her life. May Zoey’s courage humble adult readers, as it inspires and enlightens young readers.
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I was one of those “sensitive readers” other reviewers warned may not be a good fit for the book. My 15-year-old daughter and I both tried to start and had to set aside this story as a poor fit for us. 

I gave full stars because I’m proud the author is tackling hard topics that (sadly) many young children have to face. My hope is that this story doesn’t also leave them with the impression they (the children) also have to fix those big problems.
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Zoey is in seventh grade and she has a ton of responsibilities, helping her mother take care of her 2 younger siblings ages 4, 3 and infant. The octopus tie in is right at the beginning--Zoey loves them because they had a book and a DVD about them, and also they are really cool. Also, who wouldn't love to have 8 arms? Only we wish seventh graders weren't so worried about their siblings and their mothers. Zoey's mother has a boyfriend, Lenny, who seems great because he is clean and has money and goes to work. But Zoey starts to realize that this is not the only thing that is happening. She spies on him with her mother only to find that he is verbally and emotionally abusive. She doesn't use those words, but she knows that Lenny is not treating her mother right. And she knows Lenny doesn't treat her brother Bryce right.

Zoey's school life is also a struggle, in part because she has too much going on at home. She gets lucky and has a teacher who intervenes for her and encourages her, even though it seems like Zoey isn't trying. This, and the fact that it's debate club, make all the difference.

It's a well told story in a fairly short number of pages. The setting and characters are memorable and evocative. You can't help but really feel for Zoey and her mother--especially her mother, who needs help from her seventh grader to make a real change in her life. The ending is maybe a bit more optimistic than real life, but it's nice to have a happyish ending.
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Many seventh graders spend their days worrying about friendship drama, their appearance, or their killer homework. But there are millions of kids in our country whose worries are related to their safety or who are living in serious poverty. We don’t see those kids in books often enough, which is why I was eager to read THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS.

Zoey has her hands full taking care of three younger siblings after school every day while her mom works at the pizza parlor. It’s hard and thankless work, and Zoey often finds herself in challenging situations that require patience and quick thinking beyond her years. They live with her mom’s boyfriend, Lenny. He’s the father of her youngest sibling. Her other siblings have a different father, and Zoey has never met her dad. Lenny’s trailer is the nicest place they’ve ever lived, and her mom is eager to please her boyfriend, even when it means she has to behave neglectfully toward her kids.

At school, Zoey does her best to stay under the radar, even though her demanding home life means there’s no time for homework. Her only friend Fuchsia lives in foster care, so neither of them fit in with the kids at school.

Zoey thinks life would be easier if she were an octopus. Eight arms to handle all her siblings. Amazing camouflage to help her hide at school. But as much as she’d like to be invisible, Ms. Rochambeau, the debate teacher has her in her sights. Even though Zoey comes to school unprepared for class and has to rush home to take care of her brothers and sister, Ms. Rochambeau for some reason encourages her to join the debate team.

And even though she doesn’t have the confidence to participate, Zoey learns a lot. She quickly realizes that her mom’s relationship with her boyfriend is psychologically abusive. And then suddenly Fuchsia’s living situation becomes dangerous too. Meanwhile, a crime has been committed at school, and everyone is blaming the weird kid, Silas, whose dad rides around with a gun in his truck.

But Zoey knows the truth about all these problems, the biases, and the difficult solutions that those around her don’t seem to have the power to correct. Will she have the courage to speak out, even though it risks everything? Her relationship with her mom, the most stable “home” she’s ever had, her friend’s life, and getting negative attention at school.

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is an inspiring book about personal empowerment and stereotypes as it relates to poverty, class, and those who own guns. Zoey reminded me of a lot of kids that I grew up with who had to work to help their family survive. Those kids didn’t do well in school. They were never prepared and were always harassed by teachers for their lack of seriousness about their education. I always wanted to stand up for those kids, but I was only confident enough to give them pencils and paper. Luckily, Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau who could see something in her that no one else could see and who went “the extra mile” to support Zoey so that she could grow into a kid who could solve her own problems and help those around her see how to help themselves. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS also explores the danger of stereotypes by showing us that not all gun owners are bad people and being poor can squelch your potential by limiting your ability to fit in and feel confident.

I highly recommend THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS for its authentic and open examination of poverty, domestic violence, and finding inner strength to deal with hopelessly challenging situations for ages ten and up. It is a great story for those who are living in poverty to see themselves in a book and for those who aren’t who might be able to see their struggling classmates in a new light. What the book does best is to illuminate the divide in our country by showing how we all talk past one another. Zoey thinks through and understands the complex biases that cause so many problems for us all. Maybe we can all learn something from her.

For those who are very sensitive, the psychological abuse and gun violence may be disturbing, and it would be best to read this book with a thoughtful adult so they can discuss Zoey’s situation. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is an excellent classroom discussion book and is an important addition for library collections.

Hopefully, everyone will at some point find a Ms. Rochambeau in their life (we all need one!) and, even more importantly, be a Ms. Rochambeau for someone else.

Find THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS at your favorite bookstore on September 4th, 2018 or request it at your local library.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing an arc of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS.
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I thought some of the story was very strong, but the minor characters (debate club members) lacked depth and drew me out of the story. She’s so sheltered in some ways and worldly in others so sometimes the MC was awkward to read. I think younger teens might enjoy.
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Rating: 2.5/3. I can see the benefits of this book for younger audiences but something about it felt so unnatural. I can't put my finger on it but it may be how the characters reacted to situations. For example, Zoey’s behavior seemed to contradict itself on multiple occasions. One minute she seems like a naive child (she is only in 7th grade so I can accept some of it) who seemed so sheltered she didn't realize police brutality existed but the next minute she was so evolved and mature and was trying to convince her mom to leave her emotionally abusive boyfriend. It made no sense. I understand there needs to be some kind of character growth but with a book this short it seem pretty extreme. By the end of the book she was acting like a well-adjusted adult. Overall, it was a good book looking at pretty heavy topics like poverty, class disparity, self- esteem and abusive relationships. There was definitely good things here. I just wasn't a big fan of how they played out in the plot. There are better ways to approach these subjects. 

I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Rating: 3.5 stars

Spoilers ahead!!

“The Benefits of Being An Octopus” is definitely a book meant for middle grade kids. The female protagonist, Zoey, is in seventh grade, which makes her about 13 years old, so I’d say this book would be appropriate for 10-15 year olds. I wasn’t aware that this book was meant for a younger audience, but it didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment. I went into this book not expecting very much; it seemed like a cute little story about a girl who decided to enter the debate club and found out that some things in her life weren’t what they seemed.

I was surprised by the heavy issues presented in this book, especially when the target audience is young preteens. The first issue was gun control. It was interesting to me (really interesting, actually) that Braden presented arguments for both sides of the gun control argument. “Get rid of guns because they kill/hurt/maim people and in the wrong hands can be lethal” and “Guns are needed to control the deer population, as well as other animal populations, and as long as people are safe and responsible with their guns while hunting, they should be able to maintain control of their guns.” I thought both these arguments made sense. If Braden had tried to say that guns are necessary for random citizens to carry around wherever they want for any reason, I might not have continued with the book. Or maybe I would have, but I would have given it less stars because I don’t agree with that at all. But the arguments were valid, and they gave me something to think about.

[Full review on my blog!]
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