Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

Benefits of Being an OctopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus
Ann Braden
Sky Pony Press
Published on September 4, 2018

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Some 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?

My Review
This book has so many cool things about it. I loved that Zoey joins the debate club at school (even though at first she’s an unwilling participant). Her natural talent shows in the way she approaches problems and cares for her siblings, which made it so easy to cheer for her as she battled anxiety about speaking in front of her classmates. I loved her teacher, too. So many moments between Zoey and her teacher had me all teary-eyed. They share a kind of understanding that only someone who’s been through a similar thing can share, and it obviously changes Zoey’s life.

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

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

One of the really fun things about the book is the way Zoey uses imagery about octopus behavior to describe how she feels at different times or things she wishes she could do (like have extra hands to manage her three small siblings). I loved those descriptions and how they appeared consistently through the book.

I actually picked up a copy of this book after reading another blogger’s review of it, and I’m so very glad I did. I need to go back and comment on the review say thanks! The Benefits of Being an Octopus definitely deserves a read.

 The Benefits of Being an Octopus on AmazonRecommended for Ages 12 up.

Cultural Elements
Major characters are white or not physically described.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Someone fires shots in a school parking lot near students. After the gun incident, students argue about whether guns are good or bad (Zoey believes guns are tools that can be used for good things like hunting while a few other students argue that no one should have guns.). A girl is physically threatened by a man. A man verbally abuses a woman.

Drug Content

 The Benefits of Being an Octopus on GoodreadsNote: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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