The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a simple book that deals with powerful themes. The central character, Zoey, a middle grader reveals about her struggles with poverty and domestic abuse. As the book unfolds, she learns how to speak for herself, and how to take a stand. 

I don’t really read middle-grade books but this one was a good one, specifically, due to the light that it shed on emotional abuse and the implications of such matters on kids. The author did an excellent job on displaying Zoey’s concerns and struggles. I also like the way her shift from under-confidence to confidence was portrayed. 

The book also brought the culture of bullying to the spotlight. But, considering the weight of all these critical themes, the novel is a light read. It doesn’t pressure you. It just works around putting Zoey’s struggles to the fore with a light touch on emotions. 

Briefly, the book is a short and quick read. It focuses on important topics but not with a blinding intensity, which is, somewhat, good. Because, in that way, the matters come to the fore without disturbing the reader much. It’s a book that you can pick whenever you are looking for a substantial read but one that's not excruciatingly long.
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This is a story about Zoey, a young girl living in poverty, whose teacher at school helps her to work up the courage to make change in her life, to remove herself from the types of problems these situations bring, including lack of good food and clean clothes, domestic violence, social isolation, drug use, foster homes, gender inequality, bullying, and her mothers reliance on her help to care for family members at a young age.  

I feel that although the story launched straight into it, which caught me off guard, overall, this story was beautifully written, Zoey comparing herself to an octopus, and cleverly using the involvement with debating at school to give her insight into what is wrong at home, and with the way people are treated by different classes.

I was of the opinion this was a story for middle grade readers, but I personally would not recommend it to this age group, as it dives into some topics that not all parents would be happy having their child exposed to.   In saying that, what makes this book so good, is that these are real problems that kids (and others) face in their lives, and rather than bury our heads in the sand and pretend they don't exist, it is story to opens our eyes to this type of life.  

This is a great book, but I would recommend it for older teens and above, however parents should read this prior to determine if they feel the content is appropriate for their children.
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There seems to have been a recent surge of quality when it comes to middle grade literature (see: Aru Shah & Breakout), and let me tell you: I am here for it. Middle grade books have all of the drama and intense subject matter of young adult literature, but none of the romantic entanglements. There is rarely, if ever, any sort of romance in middle grade literature, and if there is it's simply a crush or a chaste first kiss. This tends to make the plots of middle grade move quicker, and leaves them more room to get their message across.

When I requested The Benefits of Being an Octopus on NetGalley, I was figuring I'd get something about strained family dynamics and puberty. I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into, and it was something that will stick with me for a while to come.

How I'd Describe This Book to a Friend
Zoey is a seventh grader, and if any book character can remind me of what it's like to be in middle school, it's Zoey. We feel her tension in the classroom, with the boy she has a crush on who rides her school bus. We see her hatred for speaking up in class, her disdain for the popular girls. But there is something different about Zoey that we never see in other literature: Zoey is poor.

We meet Zoey when she and her family are in flux - they are living with her mother's latest boyfriend Lenny, sharing a cramped trailer between Lenny, his father, Zoey, her mom, and her three younger siblings (infant Hector, preschoolers Bryce and Aurora). Her mother works part time at the local pizza place, and they scrape by just enough day after day - but they have a roof over their head, and so Zoey doesn't mind shoplifting cans of Easy Cheese from the local convenience store to keep her siblings occupied. She is their sole caretaker for most of their day, and she must keep them quiet so they don't bother Lenny or his dad. This means that homework and school are not a priority. In fact, Zoey just doesn't do it - she doesn't have time. But her lifelong passion for the octopus - an animal that I have learned so much about through Zoey's eyes! - leads her to fill out an assignment packet for once, to participate in a debate about what the superior animal is. And that little packet will change everything.
The Bottom Line
There are so many hot-button topics in this story, and they are wound seamlessly here through the eyes of a twelve year old. We see poverty, child neglect and abuse, the failed foster system. There is a subplot about gun control that I honestly cannot applaud the author for enough - I myself am fairly anti-gun, and I found myself agreeing with some characters in the book who felt the same way as I did. But when Zoey started thinking about all the reasons they've helped her and her friends - people who rely on hunting, her neighbor Silas whose father hunts to make ends meet and put food on the table - it made me question my own belief systems as a 29 year old woman. This is not easy to do.

I absolutely adored Zoey. I saw her mother's quiet strength and dignity, the way she fell apart when she thought no one was looking and how she had to be strong for her children - how she always put them first, without fail. We see how growing up around anger affects children - little Bryce, who becomes stoic and withdrawn and just wants to fight everyone. We see Zoey's best friend Fuschia, a byproduct of a failed foster system who is now stuck with her mother she hates and her mom's boyfriend who is downright dangerous. And perhaps most influential of all, Zoey's Social Studies teacher, who won't let her fade into the backdrop. We meet all of these truly unique characters who are flawed, but not failing. And that's an important distinction.

Zoey draws parallels constantly between herself and an octopus - she yearns to have more arms, to wrangle her siblings. She utilizes her octopus camouflage to blend in when she feels uncomfortable. And as odd as that might sound, let me tell you it works, and it works well. I am absolutely captivated by Zoey's story, her family's journey, and the love that surrounds her. If you work with students or kids, please pick this book up - honestly, you should pick it up no matter what. I promise you won't regret it. Middle grade literature has set the bar very high for me in 2018, and I couldn't be more pleased.

“Sometimes if you don’t have a jacket and you’re sitting next to someone who does, you feel colder. But sometimes, if the right person is wearing it, you feel warmer.”
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The title of this novel is rather clever. The octopus metaphors and analogies throughout the novel are perfectly placed, great examples, and aren't overly detailed (if they were, I can imagine myself getting over the octopus facts!). It's written in the way the main character, Zoey, would think about how her life is similar to an octopus.

The overall premise of the novel revolves around poverty (in a first world country). Zoey is in grade seven and helps her mother look after her three significantly younger siblings. It's almost as if she needs eight arms to help her help her mum (and her mum needs eight arms too!)

I loved the way Zoey develops as a character throughout the novel. She learns to view things in a different way, growing as a person.

Braden writes about "silent" domestic violence, where the damage is on the psyche and not necessarily the psychical body. It's great for not only young teenagers to read and learn about, but for anyone. People will begin to learn and understand people on a deeper level, and/or understand human complexity, simply by reading this book.
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*I was given a review copy from the author and publisher. My opinions are my own*
Ann Braden has written the story of many children. This is a story that not only needs to be read by students, but also by teachers. Zoey is a teenage girl living in a trailer park with her Mom, her Mom's boyfriend, the owner of the trailer and her three siblings. Life isn't easy taking care of your siblings, keeping the away from certain people and balancing school life at the same time. Sometimes it takes one adult that actually sees you to help you get through and sometimes you just have to rely on your own gut to do what is right and speak up when it's time to speak up. 
This story will stick with me long after putting it back on the shelf and it will be one that I revisit often. The voices of Zoey, Silas and Fuchsia are underrepresented on our bookshelves. Their stories need to be told. My hope is that Ann Braden continues to write books and fills them with all the Things That Need To Be Said. 
Hands down, a must read for educators and a necessary addition to our classrooms and libraries.
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Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC copy of this book!

This is a beautiful book. I was a little surprised at how powerful it was; usually it takes me a few chapters before I start empathizing with the characters I'm reading, but for this book it was from page 1. Braden's characters are so honest and real, and relatable even though I have never been in a situation like they are in. 

My biggest issue with the book was the topic they picked for debate. It almost feels too soon, and it took me out of the story a bit. That being said, though, it made sense for the plot and was necessary for much of the character development that took place (which is really to say, it wasn't gratuitous, which I appreciated even if I didn't agree with it). 

Overall, it was an excellent book that tackled tough topics in a way that was easily understandable for middle graders.
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It was raining all day today and that was perfect for me because I finished this book in almost one sitting. 

I was drawn in by the cover and immediately liked the main character Zoey a lot. I’m always happy to read books about strong willed young adult girls. And the influence of a good role model. And kindness. So inspiring!

I also love that the author finishes her acknowledgements with this: “To the young people who are speaking up for what’s right, even when it’s hard … You are heroes.” so true!!

This was a great book and I enjoyed reading it! Thank you to Net Galley and Skyhorse publishing for providing me with an advance copy of this book.
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Really good read. The image of Zoey carrying a baby and a toddler on her 7th grade hips will stick with me for a long time. Full review on Goodreads.
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I will be recommending this book to every teacher in my district. We often think we know what is happening under the surface of our students, but it is spelled out so clearly in this book. As teachers, we need to remember our students are people first and need us to show them their own strength. This story also opens conversations about domestic violence and how subtle it can be when it isn't physical violence.
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Start to finish, I was unable to put down THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS despite the mom, home, and teacher work duties that called to me. Luckily, I read quickly. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

Our protagonist, Zoey, is not completely aware of her situation as the plot first unfolds. She does not recognize the emotional abuse that is present in her home, but as an adult reader, you are painfully aware of the realization to come. Zoey's understanding and development as a character are authentic and riveting. She does her best to balance her responsibilities at home and her school responsibilities, but life comes first and school often falls to the wayside. She becomes a hero by being able to make the first tough steps towards change. I feel, as an educator, that the time that it takes Zoey to take those steps and change her mindset is authentic to her struggles and age. Our upper middle grade and young adult readers will be able to attach themselves to Zoey and make that growth with her as they read, which is the core of a good book for this age group. On top of that, the message of empathy is invaluable. Perhaps the most authentic part of the story is that though our heroine is able to move herself, her family, and her friend out of a perilous danger zone, there is no magical, easy happy ending - just as is true in real life.

Ann Braden skillfully weaves the octopus metaphor throughout the story - it's not just a pretty cover that's trying to pull you in. The octopus provides both symbolism for the themes of the story & is our protagonist's personal symbol. If you didn't go in as an octopus fan, you will learn something and come out as one! 

This is a book that needs to be in the hands of students, so that the ones who haven't experienced poverty can grow from it, and so that the ones that have can see themselves reflected and ultimately triumphant. Tenderly written, THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS tackles difficult themes and issues (poverty, domestic abuse, the gun debate) and is a perfect read that I recommend to everyone from middle school to adults.
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Let me preface this review by saying I solely read this book because it had “octopus” in the title. Seriously, I didn’t read the description, I didn’t look up the author…I just dove in because …. octopus.

It’s a thing…me and octopuses. Yes, octopuses.

My dad was a scuba diver and we shared a love for all things octopus. My collection is more extensive than my tattoos.

Now…this book. The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a middle grade book – a book I normally have no business reading. Except that now I’m looking for new books for my daughter to read. And maybe in a year or two she’ll be ready for this.

“Sometimes you just need something solid that fits entirely in your hand.” Probably my favorite quote in this book…this one sentence holds so much depth. Especially for a story about an awkward seventh grade girl who is juggling taking care of her three younger siblings, trying not to be noticed at school, and being part of a debate club she has zero interest in.

“Octopuses have three hearts and all of mine are broken.” This. I will warn you that if you have strong feelings about gun laws this may not be the book for you. While it isn’t the center of the book, it still holds a place within the story. For me, I absolutely love the direction it went. I appreciate Ann Braden’s attempt at showing another side to a hot button topic.

“Sometimes if you don’t have a jacket and you’re sitting next to someone who does, you feel colder. But sometimes, if the right person is wearing it, you feel warmer.” All. The. Feels. There are some amazing quotes in this story and so much to be taken away from it. It’s possible that I could read this story several times and take away something new each time. I truly believe middle grade children can benefit from reading a book about speaking out, even when it’s scary or difficult.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Loved this book. Gives great perspective on what some of our students are going through. I will be rethinking how I handle homework in the future, as well as how I can better encourage my students.
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Seventh grader Zoey likes octopuses and wishes she could be one because of all the responsibilities she has to shoulder. She takes care of her younger siblings every day after school while her mom works her shift at a pizza parlor. Their family lives in her mom's boyfriend's trailer. Kids at school also make fun of her because sometimes she's more grimy than she'd like. In addition, her best friend, Fuschia is dealing with her own issues. Then, her teacher asks her to join the school's debate team and Zoey starts to realize that she may need to stand up for herself and her family.

At first, I had no idea where this story was going, but it's not often that you read a middle grade novel with a protagonist dealing with real "adult" challenges. Zoey is too busy to do things that other kids can indulge in without a second thought. I enjoyed the way Ann Braden handles all the subplots in this story, from Fuschia, Silas, to Zoey's mom and even the kids in her school. I finished this feeling like I understood all the characters.

Still, at the crux of the matter of this book is a powerful debate and it's clear that Braden wants us to view the issue she addresses from a different perspective. I definitely think this book will generate great conversation and that's important.
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Zoey is a gem of a character, revealing her depth in the way she faces adversity in her seventh grade year. Living in a trailer with her three younger siblings and mother's boyfriend- she is overwhelmed by the responsibilities at home to keep the family together. This novel explores tough themes: domestic and gun violence, poverty and verbal abuse. This is all done with such tact, I wouldn't hesitate to share this with middle grade readers.
The octopus metaphor was beautifully done throughout the book- and is represented in a stunning way on the cover. I love how the octopus is an extension of her... the part of her that in "unseen"... underneath the surface. Brilliant.
"My very own octopus tattoo. With strong tentacles lined with suckers and an unblinking eye that stares everyone else down. Because this is my moment when everything is suddenly clear. I'm not going to be like my mom. I'm not going to let anybody mess with me. When an octopus sends up its spray of ink, it means business. It's going to throw off the predator- and then it's going to escape. And nobody's a better escape artist than an octopus."

When a teacher takes notice of Zoey and convinces her to become a part of the debate team, everything changes. Zoey's "octopus" is becoming more visible. She is beginning to come out of hiding and take a stand, even when her mother cannot. 
We know how important it is for our students to see themselves in the stories they read. I found it empowering to follow Zoey through all the rough patches and succeed in spite of her socioeconomic status. We need diverse books. This one is a must. Thank you #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a well-written, engaging tale that will allow students of lower socioeconomic status to see themselves represented in literature. It will provide them a story of hope and perseverance and I would therefore recommend it to students.
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I absolutely adored this! Stayed up until midnight finishing it. Didn't want to stop. Beautifully written and I loved Zoey so much! A definite keeper :)
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I was immediately drawn to this book because of the cover. It's simple, yet colorful and aesthetic, and it fits the vibe of the story very well!

The Benefits of Being an Octopus follows Zoey, a seventh grader who doesn't have time to deal with crushes or even homework. She's too busy taking care of her younger siblings while her family barely scrapes by. But one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club, and Zoey can't stop thinking how much easier life would be if she was an octopus with eight arms and the ability camouflage. Surprisingly, joining the debate club helps Zoey see things in a different light and with everything going on at home, at school, and with Zoey's best friend Fuchsia, that's exactly what she needs.

This was quite a quick read and the writing style was very engaging. The narration was authentic and it really sounded like everything was from a seventh grader's perspective. Although I understand that the age factored in, I personally still felt a little frustrated at the simple terms the narrator thought in, even towards the end.

Another frustration factor was regarding character development. It was definitely there, but it didn't quite pick-up until the 70% mark, and waiting for it was quite a task. I think the author captured the binary thinking of younger students very well; in fact, I really loved how I could truly empathize with the main character, even though I may disagree with them. This book really made me look at people beyond their arguments, and it points out that what's frustrating about politics aren't the people on the other side, it's close-mindedness by anyone and often, everyone.

Regarding the rest of the characters, I'm not sure I felt as much love for them as I could have. I think that some of them could have been fleshed out more and I'm not 100% satisfied with how much backstory I got. Fuchsia was a character that could have used more screentime and personality before she became a plot device.

The plot was very interesting overall, though I did feel like it got a little messy. The book bounced between subplots, and I think the resolution tying them together was a little weak, and I'm not sure how satisfied I am.

Overall, I'd still recommend this book to everyone, and I think even adults could learn a lot from this book, which really makes the reader take a step back and look at both sides of every coin.
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This could be one of the books that everybody should read.. it’s talking about important subjects; gunlaws, domestic violence, both physical and mental abuse, living below the poverty level and so on. This book could mean a world of difference to quite a lot of people; it opens a new POV on everything, one that deserves to be seen.
I really loved the octopus story through the entire book, the sayings, all the little facts.. it made it so much more realistic and hopeful and I loved it.
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Ann Braden tells a story of socioeconomic struggles, courage, and the importance to speak up and stand your ground. The Benefits of Being an Octopus will be a source of hope for many young readers living on the edge of society (which underpins the requirement of libraries, obviously!). I would like to specifically point out the role of the octopus in this book.

The octopus serves a triple purpose in this story: It is 1) a symbol of the human ability to adapt and evolve in difficult situations, especially children and adolescents, which represents a core theme in this book, 2) a visualisation of how young ones, who are forced into parental roles for their siblings due to their parents trying to make the rent, juggle several things (household, schoolwork, friendships, first love) at once, and 3) an image the main character uses to summon strength because the octopus can both camouflage and reach for several things at once. I really liked how Ann Braden instrumentalised this fascinating animal in the book to address issues of socioenomic status, parentification (the role reversal of parent and child), and domestic abuse. She skillfully highlights how students from low-income families can be at a disadvantage, for example when homework requires certain materials at home which Zoey explains she does not have. She also addresses prejudice and misunderstandings between friends. I enjoyed the friendship between Zoey and Fuchsia, which demonstrated how important it is to pay attention to your social environment and how much strength can be gained in having loyal friends. With Zoey joining the debate club at school, Ann Braden kickstarts her character growth – standing up to fellow students, standing up to friends, and standing up to her mother's abusive boyfriend.

MG literature is, more than any other genre, meant to teach as much as entertain. The Benefits of Being an Octopus accomplished this goal by showing the reader how domestic abuse does not necessarily require physical violence, but that verbal and emotional abuse can also be harrowing. The book also encourages young readers to take matters into their own hands, especially their future, and to be attentive towards others.
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The Benefits of Being an Octopus takes an honest look at how poverty and domestic verbal abuse impacts the life of 7th grade Zoey and her family.  This novel is well written and will resonate with young adults, if not on a personal level, then to guide them towards compassion to others.
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