The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

I enjoyed this coming of  age story. It is a story that can remind us all that our circumstances do not define us.  Zoey knows better than most that life is not fair, but it is her discovery of her belief that despite this, we all deserve to be treated as if we matter.  Finding her voice and courage to change not only her only life, but also the lives of those she holds close, reminds us that sometimes we don't have to look far for the strength and help we need. Braden does an excellent job of making us feel the trappings of Zoey and her friends, and to make those of us who have options thankful for our situations in life. I can only hope that this book will help us all take better care of each other.  This book handles some of the unfortunate struggles that our children and society our forced to deal with: gun violence, domestic violence (mental not physical), school violence, drug addiction, and poverty among them. While handling these topics in a sensitive fashion, it may be a hard read for the more sensitive younger reader.
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Pages: 260

Genre: realistic fiction, middle grade

Release date: 4. september 2018

My thoughts
Rafting out of five: four stars

I did not realize this was a debut novel, that’s even more impressing. This book says it’s important, and it’s right. It’s about one girl, Zoey’s, experience and daily life, the struggles she goes through as she’s taking care of her siblings, trying to survive school and making tough choices.

This book talks about how some children are forced into adulthood earlier than others with the amount of resposibilities they have. There’s a gap between kids who have a different amount of support at home, like having healthy food prepared for them, help with homework, not having to worry about family’s financial situaiton, that shapes so much what their experiences are like and what amount of stresses and stability they have in other aspects of their life, like school. This book communicates that in a very direct, but appropriate way. It has a language that works both for adults and kids. It shows Zoey experience in hopes that more stories of kids like her will be told, increasing empathy and the discussion with them.

The octopuses (thank you for not forcing me to read octopi over and over it’s not as fun) are a really fun and heartbreaking way to convey Zoey’s emotions and thoughts going through things. I appreciated all the facts, being a nerd, and the method of process it brought her. Something that confused me was reading Zoey’s thoughts and trying to match them with the reflective opinions and conclusions she draws. She noticed things that the other classmates don’t, like Silas stopping talking and why, and has suddenly can debate gun reform from both views. And that’s not major things, but I got this feeling that I never saw the process behind developments like that.

Debates at school is tough when you’re more invested in it personally and sits on more “insider” details than others who are debating for the sake of it, because that’s basically the task. I thought it was relatable the way Zoey’s hands were shaking and she had to find her courage. It was pretty obvious that the author chose the gun reform subject because of own interest, it did not quite match with the rest of the book.

What I was feeling reading this book: sad, but mostly proud, for kids like Zoey and thinking back on other now nearly adults I know raising their siblings and having those invisible struggles

Thank you to the publisher for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exhange of an honest review.
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I was sucked into this book right away. I was desperate to find out what was going to become of Zoey and her family. Zoey's story also made me think about the number of students in my classroom every year that probably also live in situations similar to Zoey's and feel the same way she does, that they are trapped in a life where they are worthless. I thought this story was one of the most powerful stories I have read in a long time. I think it might be a bit old for my 4th grade classroom library, but I am definitely going to purchase a copy to keep in my closet, as I know that at some point I will have a student in my classroom who really needs it.
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In this slice-of-life story about real life, Braden creates characters who are both vulnerable and brave and puts them in situations that are at once mundane and life-changing. Initially, the book moved a bit more slowly than I expected (I'd heard so much about it I think my expectations were skewed) but, this morning, I hit the point where I could not put this book down, and by the time I finished it, I was wiping away tears and wanting more. 

Zoey, the protagonist, shares her world in a matter-of-fact voice and introduces us to a cast of characters we can't help but care about (well, most of them, anyway -- every story needs a bad guy or two). Zoey copes with the many challenges of her life using her imagination and her love of octopuses (and yes, Zoey says, that plural is acceptable). These octopus analogies cleverly bring the reader deeper into her psyche, regardless of the role she's playing (big sister, reliable daughter, concerned friend, all-but-invisible student) and despite her unwillingness to reveal much about herself to those around her. Insights into rural poverty and its challenges arise organically through the characters and their lives -- Zoey's mom and her boyfriend, the siblings Zoey helps care for, her best friend, her peers. There's no preaching and there are no magical solutions, but there is love and hope sprinkled throughout, sometimes in unexpected places. I'd highly recommend this book for anyone who works with kids, as well as the teen audience for which it's intended.
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My review is scheduled to appear in the September 1, 2018, issue of BOOKLIST Magazine, a publication of the American Library Journal.
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Much love to NetGalley and Skyhorse Publishing for allowing me early access to this book.

Zoey is a lovable little weirdo trying to survive being a teenager, an older sister, a friend, and an outsider.
This was a fantastic coming of age story with a delightfully quirky main character.
There were a few unanswered questions for me at the end, but not enough to deter me from recommending this to everyone.
Some heavy bits, some funny bits and some weird bits.
Give it a read, I think you'll like it!
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Easy to read, but ultimately hollow.
The plot was messy, it seemed like the author forget about side stories and characters and then came back many chapters later like "well, actually, these things are still a thing". Storylines were left uncompleted, characters were left underdeveloped. The debate club seemed like just an excuse for Zoey (I had to think really hard to remember her name) to learn the definition of discrediting the opponent. She made no friends until the last few pages, she could've done without her teacher, she didn't learn any skills bc she didn't actually participate in any debate. There are popular girls at school that are mentioned only once like we've known them all along, which we don't.

The debate club teacher didn't care enough about Zoey. I don't care what you say, she just didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd kept her distance on purpose just to forget her childhood. You see a student struggling with her toddler siblings and you just give her a thumbs up? You heard her say something about men with guns threatening little girls and you waited a whole week to ask her if she's okay? She's in poverty and in an abusive household and the ONLY thing you tell her is to suck it up? Fuck you. Honestly.

There was like this WHOLE plotline about being pro gun because hUnTiNg iS fUn and honestly I'm so angered about this the only words I have again are fuck you. Fuck you personally, author. What the fuck. What. The fuck. This is a middle grade???? With gun propaganda???? w h a t t h e f u c k

The final scene with the family running away from the abusive step dad and stuff was thrilling but didn't make me feel for the characters. It was too late.
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There are times you can read a story that is not new because of the way it is being told. This is the story of Zoey who has three siblings and a mother to call her own. She has an opinion on her current living situations and she is not very popular in school(for reasons other than her opinions since she does not voice them often). Zoey's is not a unique case, but that does not make what she has to say any less important. Her fascination for octopuses litters the book with facts I had not known earlier. 

I read young adult/ children's books sometimes because it gives a fresh lease to my reading . This tale felt like a breath of fresh air, there is very subtle humour in the narration which does not really intend to make you laugh but provide an ambience. It has good flow and I think it holds an appeal to people of all ages who like to read a more diverse set of stories. There is not much of a plot, but the characters and what they learn about themselves that makes it worth the time.
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This book is a must read for all educators! It provides insight for a better understanding of some of the students that may be sitting in your classroom. Zoey is a young girl living in poverty. So much is required of her daily and she struggles to keep up with it all. She keeps to herself and is completely misunderstood by everyone around her. She is faced with many difficult situations throughout the book. Zoey is incredibly tough and through the story finds the courage she needs to stand up for herself and those around her. This is a very well-written story!
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Zoey is something fierce as she learns to "suck it up" in Ann Braden's new gem. Braden created a rich character and painted an incredibly clear picture of what poverty looks like. This will be an eye-opening read for students and families alike.
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This is a scary, brave, complicated, important book. It's a book about getting out of abusive relationships, about the gun control debate, about things not being black-and-white, about bullying, about speaking up, about a girl with the weight of the world on her soldiers, and yes, about octopuses, too.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a 13-year-old girl Zoey who lives with her mother and her three small siblings in her mother's boyfriend's trailer. There is a lot of focus on surviving and supporting your family while poor, including the power being cut off, applying for benefits, not being able to wash your clothes, and the other kids at school laughing at you. It's about the bitter feeling when it seems like the other kids are allowed to have Valentine's Day gifts as their biggest problem, but you aren't.

This book was really difficult to read at times, with many parent figures and adults who have failed these children. Some of them were trying their best and ended up doing better, while others were toxic and people you needed to get away from. 

I remember thinking several times that these kids (both Zoey and some of her classmates) sound older than they are, that their debate club sounds like something we'd have at college, but then I realised that I have the wrong view on 13-year-olds and they are more mature than I'd think. I'm glad that they are, but it's sad to feel like they have to be. There were so many things in this book that in an ideal world kids Zoey's age shouldn't have to deal with.

Overall, this was a difficult that very important book that deals with many different issues that some real kids have to deal with every day.

Also, shout out to teachers who notice when something is wrong and go out of their way to help.
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I loved this raw and realistic middle grade book.  Zoey is poor and doesn't have time to do homework or wash her clothes because she has to help her mom watch her three little siblings.  And by watch, I mean feed, bathe, dress, and put to bed.  Reading about her struggles to try and fit in even though she is made fun of for living in a trailer court was heartbreaking. I have personally witnessed kids like Zoey at my job in education.  You see the embarrassment on their faces when their clothes aren't clean or their homework isn't done. They just don't have the support system some kids have, and they have to choose between school and family.  Zoey's strength and resilience is my favorite thing about this book.  She stands up for herself, her friends, and her mom.   The teacher portrayed in this book is awesome and I hope middle schoolers that read this book are inspired to seek a teacher's help and advice no matter what the problem is.
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An excellent book with a very important story. I loved the role a teacher made in empowering the protagonist with the tools she needed to help her family. I hope many teachers read this book to help them walk the the path of a family in poverty.
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This book provides a glimpse into the challenges that many children face. Zoey's strengths keep her family afloat, but often get in the way of school. The Benefits of Being an Octopus explore the complications of family, living in poverty, bullying, emotional abuse, and finding your voice.
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One of my favorite books of the year, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, shares the story of Zoey who doesn't have time to by a typical kid as she spends her days taking care of her siblings while her mom works. Juggling school, homework, family and friendship, Zoey thinks that being an octopus with eight arms might just make her life easier. But when a teacher takes an interest in Zoey and convinces her to join the debate club, Zoey might just be able to see how things for her family could be better.
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Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom's emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself.
I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I've read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders.
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My review will be posted at on Sept. 10, 2018. At this time, I will also post my review on GoodReads and link it on Twitter. 

I liked seeing how Zoey balanced her family with deciding what kind of person she wanted to be. Her desire to be a kid who could speak up in class and turn assignments in on time conflicted with dealing with her mom’s abusive boyfriend and caring for her little siblings. However, at times I felt that Zoey was running away from her schoolwork instead of seeing it as another path to success and to be heard, like she wanted. 

I’m not sure why, but I have two conflicting thought processes about this book: One, I liked it and found it enjoyable and the characters sympathetic, but Two, I just don’t have that much to say about it. On the whole, I liked it, and it deserves 4/5 stars, but I didn’t feel like it really called to me in any specific way. I would definitely recommend it as a great middle-grade/YA read for those looking to read about kids finding their voices, dealing with poverty, and taking care of their families, because Zoey is an awesome main character.
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Zoey doesn't have a chance to worry about the normal woes of seventh grade, like homework and crushes. She's too busy helping her family just scrape by, but with three other siblings, she'd have to be an octopus with eight tentacles to juggle every task. However, one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club and soon Zoey can't help but examine the different sides of the relationships around her.

Zoey is such a strong and complicated character to follow throughout this novel. When she finds herself facing a difficult situation, she reverts to the knowledge of her favorite animal, the octopus, and uses that information to develop defense mechanisms that she believes help move her forward. This works on multiple levels, particularly in that we get to learn some great octopus facts, but also in that it allows her to be a very introspective character for a large stretch. Her point of view on life is so clear from the first page and it propels all the action.

And what a point of view. It's great seeing middle grade fiction tackle economic diversity through a novel that so carefully describes one community's poverty. There are a lot of small details about this that keep the book feeling real. This is no more evident than when exploring emotional abuse with Zoey's mom and her boyfriend. These scenes are difficult to read, but they're written with such empathy and understanding of how this seventh grader would see it. 

I really can't say enough great things about this book.

Ann Braden has written one of the strongest debut middle grade novels in a long, long time.
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I thought the strongest elements in this story were Zoey's compassionate heart, in the midst of taking care of both herself and her family. She has a harsh living situation, yet, she demonstrates great courage. I will be sure to recommend this book to the right reader and in my book talks to upper elementary-middle schoolers. I will also recommend it to teachers when they ask for books that share diverse stories of empathy.
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“All I need is to know something—and I do. And maybe, just maybe, if I do this—and if I can rock it—all the other kids will have their minds blown, and it’ll be completely satisfying to watch. ‘Who would have guessed,’ they’ll say, ‘that Zoey knew so much cool stuff? I had no idea! I thought I knew who she was, but clearly I didn’t at all.’ Maybe Kaylee Vine would even stop holding her nose and switching seats on the bus to get away from me.”

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a treasure of a book —  I absolutely loved it! If I could give it six stars, I would! At its core, it is an inspiring story about finding oneself and empowerment.  It may be intended for teens and YA, but it will definitely resonate with adults. It’s an amazing debut novel and I cannot wait to read what Ann Braden writes next.

Zoey is a seventh grader who is working on her debate prep.  The assigned topic — what is the best animal and why.  For Zoey, the answer is the octopus and she knows many reasons why it surpasses all others.  In fact, she is very knowledgeable about the eight-legged creature and even identifies with them at times. 

Zoey is responsible for looking after her three younger siblings (ranging in age from infant to four years old) and it takes up a lot of her free time. She is not a great student and doesn’t really care about school. She never participates in class and as she explains, she isn’t the kind of kid that does homework. 

Besides being unsuccessful at school, Zoey is bullied by her classmates. She doesn’t fit in and doesn’t seem to care. She also feels unappreciated by her mother, who she sees as having markedly changed since they moved in with her boyfriend Lenny. The reader cannot help but feel for Zoey and the challenging circumstances of her life. But one day her life, as well as those around her, will change when her social studies teacher becomes involved.

Likening herself to an octopus is a psychological coping mechanism for Zoey. She clearly suffers from an inferiority complex, among other things, and feeling that she shares some characteristics of an octopus helps guide her and gives her a perceived edge over her classmates. An added bonus for the reader is that we learn some interesting facts about the octopus.

“The chromatophores right under my octopus skin switch to camouflage. When I slide into the seat, I might as well be made of the same colors as the desk and the metal chair legs.”

“It’s like my octopus body has gotten trapped in a net. But there has to be an opening somewhere. If I can just stay calm and avoid getting tangled up …”

In fact, identifying with the eight-legged mollusk gives Zoey a sense of confidence, hope and courage when she most needs it. She is able to deal with stressful situations by imagining the advantages she has as an octopus.

“I can camouflage myself well enough to blend in with a desk. I just need to camouflage myself enough to blend in with them. I take a deep breath and extend my tentacles. “

“I can still blend in with the eager beavers. I can still pretend I’m like them. Maybe after long enough, that magic wand of confidence will mistake me for them, and give me a bop on the head, too.”

“Could I really be like them? I mean, an octopus can change colors ten times in a matter of seconds, so all sorts of ridiculous things are possible.”

Ann Braden does a remarkable job capturing the voice and temperament of a seventh grader.

“I hate waking them up. It’s like you’ve finally won the lottery of peace and quiet and then you rip that winning ticket to shreds and dump a bucket of angry, screaming monkeys on your head.”

“Silas has the kind of freckles that make you want to connect the dots to form constellations and dragons and things.”

“I slip into the stall that has you’re a slut carved on the side. I used to like to look at it sideways and pretend that it says you’re a slug and that it was carved by a cockroach who was just trying to help his slug friend who was having some identity issues.”

The Benefits of Being an Octopus explores many important and relevant topics - bullying, living day-to-day with poverty, emotional abuse, the gun debate and finding one’s voice (both literally and figuratively). Importantly, it shows how one person can make such a significant difference in a child’s life and its direction, in this case a teacher who cares.
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