The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

Are you one of those kids at school who just want to blend into the background and remain unnoticed? But as hard as you try you still get picked on and made fun of by the popular kids? This would be Zoey. Zoey lives in a trailer park with her mom, her three younger siblings, her mom's boyfriend, and the boyfriend's dad. Lenny, her mom's boyfriend, seems to have things all together - he has two jobs, he has a car, his trailer is perfectly organized and spotless, and he always makes sure his appearance is perfection. Things may look good to those outside the trailer, but in reality, Lenny is very abusive - not physically, but with words. Zoey's mom works the night shift at a pizza parlor which means that Zoey has to be responsible for four-year-old, a three-year-old, and a baby. Zoey is in seventh grade and way too young to have so much responsibility. She wants so badly to be like the octopus - she needs eight arms plus she wants the ability to blend into the background. Zoey's teacher takes a great interest in her and gets her to join the debate club. Zoey just sits back and observes the others and is so jealous at how confident the other kids are. She wants so bad to be them, but she knows she was not born to stand out. As things start getting worse in her own home, things start getting really bad in her best friend's home also. Will Zoey find her courage and voice to stand up for herself and ultimately give her mom the courage to stand up also? Can Zoey help her best friend, even if it means she has to go back into foster care? Will Zoey find her voice and step out of her comfort zone in front of the debate club peers? Read this incredible story of love, friendship, and finding ones self.

The Benefits of Being An Octopus tackles so many issues facing our kids today... bullying, domestic violence, gun control, and poverty. Ann Braden does a fantastic job of pulling you into Zoey's world from page one and she doesn't let you go until the last page.  I wanted so much to wrap my arms around Zoey and also be a cheerleader for her. Towards the end of the story my heart was beating so fast, just like I was in the story with Zoey and her family.  I fear that so many of my students at school live just like this and I have no idea what they are going through when they walk out of that school. Zoey has to deal with not having dinner every night, not having clean clothes all the time, and sleeping in the same room with two very much young siblings. This story will grab your heart and hold it until the very end. Do not miss this amazing book!!!
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The author did a fabulous job with this jewel.  I can not wait to add it to my Junior High curriculum.  Zoey's story needs to be heard, and this book is written in such a delicate, yet honest way that I was truly captivated from beginning to end.  This is so thoughtfully written and details are interwoven in a way that keeps the reader invested.  This is such an important viewpoint for every student (and teacher) to experience.  Good job Anne Braden!!!!  This has been the best book I've read this summer!
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The Benefits to Being an Octopus was a captivating read for me. I loved reading about Zoey and her life. Even after finishing the book I find myself relating Zoey to friends I have known, students I have had or will have, and adults too. Ann Braden has captured the true feeling of how a middle school student may feel when they are juggling more than one should deem fit for such a young soul. Not to spoil the read, but I found myself laughing, crying and wishing so much for the young lady in the story. I wanted to know more about her "friend" who lived next door. I cheered Zoey on through the book. I found myself helping her make plans and rooting for her every thought. I loved how she had adults that encouraged her and helped her find her way. I finished the book wanting more. I almost need a part two to know that she made a great life and maybe even helped others like herself in the future. I am so appreciative to for allowing me to read an advanced copy and will be adding a copy to my own classroom library! If you haven't pre-ordered a copy you can! Just click the link in the first sentence and enjoy. I surely did!
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I received this book as an ARC for an honest review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.
Zoey Albro is little girl with grown-up problems. She lives with her mother and three siblings in a trailer belonging to her mother’s boyfriend, Lenny.  Life is difficult for all of them and life with Lenny is even more difficult.  The tragedy is that Zoey, initially thinks living with Lenny is some great gift that has been bestowed upon them simply because it is a step up from their old living conditions. 
In the beginning of the book we see that Zoey has a fascination with the octopus.  Her quote “...because anything that can start out floating around defenseless in the ocean that size--and then defeat the odds to grow into this powerful creature--has to mean business.," is a foreshadow of Zoey herself.  
This book gives us a glimpse into rural poverty and the children affected by it.  Zoey’s character is three dimensional and believable.  There is heartbreak in watching Zoey struggle, while all the chips are stacked against her. She has dirty clothes, her mother is in a toxic relationship, her best friend has similar struggles and she just cannot seem to get her homework in.  There is a glimmer of hope when Zoey’s teacher begins to take an interest in her and asks her to join the debate club. The effect of having an adult treat her differently means something to Zoey. However, the real enjoyment, comes from watching Zoey find her voice.
This book doesn’t end with a perfectly clean solution to all of Zoey’s problems, but it does show some light at the end of the tunnel. 
I loved that this book provided a voice for children living in rural poverty.  I liked that all of the characters were more than just stereotypes of the impoverished. Zoey’s Mom was absentee and allowed her children and herself to be in a bad situation, but Braden shows the reader just why she would end up there.  I even got the sense that Zoey’s mom might have once been a kid just like Zoey and therefore it’s not such a big leap to see how she ended up where she did.  
Great story.  Great writing.  Highly recommended.
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The Benefits of Being an Octopus (TBBO) follows Zoey, a 7th grader who is trying to survive Middle School but has more responsibilities than most adults. She tries to be invisible but when a teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, recognises part of herself in Zoey everything changes.

TBBO is a relatively short read but packs in many current topics such as friendship, bullying, domestic abuse, gun control, young carers, and poverty.

Zoey lives with her mother, Kara, her mother’s partner Lenny, Lenny’s father Frank, and Zoey’s three younger siblings – Bryce, Aurora and Hector. As her mother works shifts, the responsibility falls to Zoey to care for her siblings at a time when someone should be looking after her. Zoey starts to realise that her mother's relationship with her partner Lenny is not a healthy one, and Zoey finds herself on a path to self-discovery.

What I loved about this book is how it cleverly weaves in psychology, as we get to know the characters, their motivations and the impact of being exposed to an unhealthy domestic environment. We have a direct insight to Zoey’s psychology and the perceptions of the people around her, specifically how she comes to understand how her mother is suffering from psychological abuse and her gradual awakening to how that the situation can change and that she has the power within herself to determine that change.

There is also an interesting but subtle underlying narrative between Frank, Lenny and Bryce. There is not a lot said about Frank, but what is said only demonstrates aggression on his part. When Bryce started to mimic Lenny’s behaviour, I became aware that Lenny may have been mimicking what he had grown up with – an aggressive and domineering father. This is not to condone or excuse Lenny’s behaviour but it exposes how impressionable children are and how important it is for them to have people in their lives who tell them that things can be different. This story is about Zoey’s experience of that very scenario.

I won’t spoil the ending of this story but I will say that the author got the balance right. There is not necessarily a happy ending but a realistic one. For any children/young adults reading this book and facing challenges in their lives they will come to know what is realistic and possible – there are no fairy tales here, no princes or princesses, but the power within ourselves to change our situations.

It struck me that there is nothing melodramatic about this book. Zoey’s situation is entirely believable and more than likely a reality for many: past, present, and future. That is why I would love to see this book in schools. There is a message here for each child or young adult who reads it, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Sky Pony Press for providing a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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There seems to be a trend at the moment for contemporary real-life issues-based YA carrying meaningful messages. Which sounds a little cynical, but if the story is handled as skillfully and sensitively as this one, then it’s all good. Novels like The Benefits Of Being An Octopus open eyes to other people’s lives, develop empathy and understanding, and change the world one small step at a time.
Zoe is one of the invisible, marginalized by poverty. She’s a seventh grader living with her mum, two younger sibs and mum’s boyfriend Lenny in Lenny’s nice clean trailer, much better than their previous place. The writing is very clever and subtle. It gradually becomes clear to the reader, though not at once to Zoe, that Lenny is domineering and a bully. It’s an unusual but important depiction of the ways in which one person can abuse another: because the abuse is emotional, not physical, it’s insidious, not obvious and yet deeply destructive. Zoe’s mum has lost all confidence or clear sense of herself. Even Zoe, at the start, is ashamed of what a mess her mum has become. 
Zoe and her friend Fuschia fly under the radar at school, invisible to the jocks, the cool and rich kids, which is the way Zoe likes it; until one day a teacher starts taking an interest in her and forces her to join the debating club. 
One of Zoe’s assignments, which for once she manages to complete amidst the chaos of childminding and no personal space, is on the octopus; she is fascinated by its many defence and survival strategies, and imagines herself as an octopus finding ways to navigate the chaos that is her life. The metaphor is sustained quite imaginatively and beautifully throughout. 
The story develops around Zoe’s problematic association with the debating club, and her growing awareness that her mum is being abused. She is a great character, shy yet strong, human, dignified, engaging and totally believable. 
The resolution is not perfect, but plausibly open-ended. There are no easy solutions for the very poor. But, Zoe has found a way to steer her family to a kind of safety, where they can be emotionally whole again, and that demands our respect.
A great book that needs to be read. Five stars.
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It is evident that Ann Braden methodically planned The Benefits of Being an Octopus as the story is woven together like a tapestry.  Readers follow Zoey as she struggles to overcome the challenges of raising her siblings, witnessing her mother lose her voice, being an outcast in school, and combating the effects of poverty.  With the guidance of well-meaning adults, including her teacher, and friends, Zoey is able to define herself and encourage her mother to do the same. This is an excellent book that teaches children how layered life can be, but also how most obstacles can be overcome. I cannot wait to read this with my students this year!
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I loved this book. But keep in mind, I'm a grown up, so my review may not be as relevant as a younger person's. I remember the middle grades, and seventh grade was not my favorite year in school, nor was it easiest, especially socially. I wanted to the read this book because 1) Octopuses are very cool and 2) I wish there were more books featuring young people living in poverty so that kids who have that experience see themselves in books with realistic, and hopeful narratives and so kids in other situations can related with greater empathy, rather than being the peer who makes fun of them for wearing hand-me-downs or clothes that don't get washed as often. Another plus for me was that the book is in a rural setting. Vermont! Not having a car in small town New England creates really big challenges for getting groceries and getting to work. Public transport is pretty meager if it exists at all. 

The main character of Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a 7th grader name Zoey who takes care of her younger siblings and helps her mom while they live with her mother's boyfriend and his father in his trailer. Zoey goes to school, but generally stays quiet and keeps her head down. She has a friend the trailer park who is also really quiet at school, and another friend who lives across town and has a challenging situation with her mother and her mother's current boyfriend. The strands that are woven together in this book include Zoey being both seen, challenged, and supported by a social studies teacher who wants her to join the debate team and how gun violence and domestic violence affect kids, their families, and the community.

Some reviews mention that the ending doesn't work for them, but I really appreciated it.
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4.5 stars

"The Benefits of Being an Octopus" is a very intense and emotional novel about an important and difficult subject.

The protagonist was really well drawn and I liked her development, it felt realistic and didn't seem rushed. I liked how the author managed to deal with such a difficult subject from the point of view of child without unnecessarily simplifying the issues the novel deals with.

The ending was open enough to show that the issues the characters have to deal with aren't entirely resolved, but it still ends the story on an hopeful point.
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I just finished reading a NetGalley ARC of The Benefits of Being an Octopus, by Ann Braden, and my emotions are running high. The main character Zoey is one of the marginalized members of our society - her family is living far below the poverty line. She gives incredible voice to her story, although she is reluctant to use that voice. She has been looked down on for so long that she doesn’t believe she has anything to contribute - that is, until an assignment, and a teacher, help to bring out her opinions and her voice. Zoey begins to see her world in a different way, and believe in herself enough to stand up and speak up.I really felt that I could see the world through Zoey’s eyes, and feel her “awakening” from her acceptance of a bad situation to her determination to change her life. The metaphor of the octopus is woven throughout the story so beautifully, and is so significant in understanding how Zoey sees herself. I won’t spoil the storyline, but it is intensely emotional and gripping, bringing me to tears many times. This is a book I will buy and read again, and recommend over and over.  I want every teacher I know to read it, and students age 10 and up. This book is full of heart, an empathy-builder, an eye-opener, a world-changer.
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The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden tells a realistic story of Zoey, a seventh grade student. She deals with typical struggles of fitting in at school while doing more than her share of the raising of her siblings. Readers will love the teacher who helps her find her inner confidence as Zoey realizes, “Nobody has ever connected me with being important.” This one teacher makes a difference in her life and she is able to confront the issues head-on. An important story!
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Excellent book. Readers will be quickly drawn into the lives of the characters.  Zoey, her family, and their struggles are portrayed with compassion and honesty. This book will spark meaningful discussions about poverty and abuse in an age-appropriate way.
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This is a "big" book as in one of those books that should be read. It's Young Adults but I think it's not an easy-buy for young adults, more for grown ups/teachers/parents who should recommend the read. It's a book to learn from and think about, important in any case.
For me as grown up it was like "oh, I want this so badly" right after seeing the cover and title. It promises one of these rare book gems every reader always is searching and hoping for, and the book doesn't disappoint. Main character is Zoey, and we learn about her life, her responsibilities, her wishes and how life sets limitations to what she is or wished to be for until she starts to find ways without leaving behind what must be done. It made me think, this book and the way the beautiful writing presents the life of a poor teen without holding up a pity card - which made it even more intensive. I hope the book gets the attention it deserves, I hope it's promoted on all places. I' certainly will.

Thanks so much for the publisher for providing a copy and best wishes for an enormous success!!!!
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I received this book as an ARC from Skyhorse Publishing via NetGalley. THANK YOU!

This young adult book was exactly what I hoped it would be. Wonderful writing clearly defines the life of seventh grader Zoey who lives in a trailer park with her mom's boyfriend and his father and her younger brother and sister. It becomes obvious quickly that if she wants to make their lives better, she will have to be the catalyst. Not only does she take on this role, but she turns those around her into supporting cast and clearly makes a long lasting impact.

The writing was great, there were no slow sequences and everything flowed well. I read this book from start to finish in one sitting and really enjoyed it.
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Zoey would like to be a good student in seventh grade, but for now, she's just trying not to draw attention to herself. She likes to do her homework, but she is constantly sabotaged by her living arrangements. Her mother has moved Zoey and her younger siblings into her boyfriend Lenny's trailer, which has some advantages. It's clean, there's usually food, and they can use his car occasionally. On the down side, Lenny doesn't really want to see or hear the kids, and he is very controlling of what Zoey's mom does. Zoey also has to make sure she is home to get her two siblings from school, and pick up her youngest from her mother's work at a local pizza parlor. When she does get her homework done, it often doesn't get to school with her. When the assignment is a debate on what animal is best, Zoey knows she'll do well because she has done a lot of background reading on the octopus. Not only does she forget her notes, but she is leery of speaking in front of the class. If she were like Matt, who rides her bus and seems to have the perfect life, it might be different. Her best friend, Fuschia, can be helpful, but there are some serious issues that Fuschia is facing with her mother's boyfriend. When her teacher tries to find out why Zoey isn't getting in her work, she offers her a way to a better grade-- participate in the debate club. While this involves some juggling to get care for her siblings, Zoey is excited to be able to use her knowledge, and also hang out with Matt. Through the debate team, she starts to see how Lenny is manipulating her mom, and how their situation isn't as good as she previously thought. Eventually, Zoey talks her mother into leaving Lenny's trailer and moving in with Fuschia's mother so that the two families have support without abuse.

Strengths: Reading about the ordinary, every day life of people whose situations were different from my own was always my favorite thing to read, and my students enjoy it, too. Zoey has a lot of responsibility for sibling care, food, and even doing paperwork for her mother, and this also has a lot of appeal to students who sometimes are not even allowed to bike to school. Zoey is realistically portrayed as wanting to be a good student but struggling to find the means necessary to accomplish this. While it is a somewhat sad book, it is hopeful, and Zoey works very hard to improve her own life. This was sort of a millenial version of Warner's The Boxcar Children. My grandparents lived in a trailer park towards the end of their lives, and I can certainly identify more with this experience than that of children with a nanny in NYC, although that sort of books are more windows than mirrors for me. Braden's note at the end of the book about wanting to write so that all children can see themselves portrayed in literature is appreciated. 
Weaknesses: The cover will make this a hard sell, and the steps look more like ones that would go up to a house than a trailer. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and handing out as a follow up read to Walker's Why Can't I Be You.
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The octopus theme is what initially made me interested in this novel by Ann Braden and I think that aspect of the book was done really well. Zoey's way of using the creature as a source of strength is absolutely wonderful. The story gives a pretty realistic view of what it is like growing up poor and in an abusive situation...until the ending. It wasn't done nearly as bad as many others have done in the past (ex: omg just leave, so easy, now life is perfect), but the way Zoey and her family escapes is a one in a million scenario. I would not be as bothered by it if at the end of the book the author had not mentioned part of the reason for writing The Benefits of Being an Octopus was so that kids in similar situations could see themselves in books.
Don't get me wrong, hope is a wonderful thing to have, but endings like the one in this story can lead to false hope, which can be dangerous in these situations. It also leaves things in a place that feels like things are going to go in a better direction...but the realist in me (or perhaps the cynic) could not help but ponder on the new problems Zoey, her friend and her family will now face. The likihood that DHS is not going to end up involved is very slim. The likihood that those kids are going to be allowed to stay in the small living space...very slim.
Outside of that little rant (sorry about that), The Benefits of Being an Octopus is actually a very good book and while I have spent the majority of the review/rant on the poverty/abuse aspects, it touches on several other very important issues like gun control (in a way that actually kind of challenged my feelings on the subject) and bullying as well.

*I received a digital ARC of this book  from Sky Pony Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This book tells a solid, age appropriate story of poverty and the multiple forms that abuse can manifest. It was lovely to read the story of the main character finding her own confidence and determination to forge her own path and I loved the use of the octopus metaphor. 

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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So... I definitely did not expect to like this middle grade book as much as I did.

It was adorable, and thoughtful, and happily entirely escaped the plague of reading like an after school special. I squirmed and hurt along with Zoey instead of feeling sorry for her or feeling like I was watching her life from the outside. An uplifting read, and especially important for privileged middle school students to be able to see a world outside their own in an way that gives the people/characters agency.

Question, though - not really a spoiler, but just in case - [ Does Bryce have autism? The whole thing about his meltdowns and handing him rocks... it's not described explicitly, but I wondered.
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So in this book we follow Zoey who we follow through the novel as she faces different challenges and subjects like racism and gun safety and overall just her being able to fit in.
I was very bland with my summarising but it's hard not to give too much away.

Some parts of this book worked for me and some didn't, I just didn't feel emotionally attached to the story. I think it's maybe cause Zoey is still young and that age you don't understand everything.

Anyway this comes out in September so if you wanna see what it's about just go for it.
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This book was powerful and had me riveted from start to finish. The chactacters were real, honest, and heartbreakingly believable. You rooted for them all and there was always an undercurrent of hope.  Braden made you love all of them and cheer them on as they succeeded.  I can see many children seeing themselves in this book, so I love the message of hope it brings and can’t wait to buy it for my classroom.
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