The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Review From User :

4.5 stars for The Benefits of Being an Octopus. This is a wonderfully-written story about a young girl who has learned all too young that moral decisions aren't nearly as black and white as many people wish they would be.

We follow seventh-grader Zoey as she struggles to make it through each day. Beyond the usual teen woes of homework and fitting in, Zoey also has to deal with shouldering a lot of the parental duties in her family. She has three younger siblings (including an infant) she must care for after school, doing everything from feeding them to getting them ready for bed. With never enough food to go around and a precarious living situation, Zoey's got a lot to deal with.

When one of her teachers wants her to participate in debate club, Zoey attends, but does her best to emulate her favourite animal, the octopus, by blending into the background. Eventually, Zoey realizes that she's got a lot to say about certain topics, and that her perspective is no less worthy than that of her classmates.

I'm deducting a half star for this book simply because there were a few scenes involving some pretty intense situations that didn't have me feeling on edge as much as I would expect. The suspense could have been built up a bit more for those parts.

For the most part, though, this book sucked me right in and I felt like I there in the story beside Zoey as she was doing her best just to get it all done. I could feel her frustrations, despair, fatigue, and outrage. I admire the way author Ann Braden has deftly woven little details into the background that highlight how much more difficult life is when your living situation isn't secure.

I strongly recommend this book for just about anyone -- it would be a wonderful read to kick off a discussion about empathy and being able to understand other perspectives, even if you don't necessarily agree.

Badass Female Character score: 5/5 -- the messaging in this book is all about how to be a stronger person and sticking up for yourself. Zoey is pretty badass when you think about how well she manages her situation.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Sky Pony Press for providing me with a DRC of this book.


“This is a compassionate look at poverty, hard choices, and defending one’s right to be treated humanely. A very fine first novel, written with a deft hand.” Newbery Medal Winner, Karen Hesse

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things theyve got to do.
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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 theres Lenny, her moms boyfriendthey 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, its 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, shes 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 moms relationship with Lenny, Fuchsias situation, and her own place in this town of people who think theyre better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home shes 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.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus