Benefits of Being an Octopus
book review,  Books

MG Book Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus

My brain is usually a bit of a hot mess. I have texts I thought I sent, things I put in a safe place only to promptly forget where I stashed it – and apparently, books I reviewed everywhere (Goodreads, Amazon, NetGalley) EXCEPT for my blog. The Benefits of Being an Octopus was one such book, discovered missing last night when I needed it. I really loved this one – it had great themes and approached tough topics.

A digital advanced reader copy of this book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher a while ago. This book contains affiliate links, and if you click on one I *may* earn a commission.


MG Book Review: The Benefits of Being an OctopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Published by Sky Pony on September 4, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Social Themes, Homelessness & Poverty, Friendship, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Family, General
Pages: 272
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NPR Best Book of 2018, Bank Street List for Best Children's Books of 2019, Named to the Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher List, Maine's Student Book Award List, Rhode Island Middle School Book Award 2020 List, 2020 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Nominee

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?

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.


Why I Loved Benefits of Being an Octopus

Ann Braden’s book gave me ALL the feels. It’s an important book in that it will let some children feel represented and understood, and hopefully will afford empathy to others who are not in this situation. It is heartbreaking, challenging, empathetic, and full of grace.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus touches on both non-violent abuse – emotional abuse- and living in poverty. The topic is handled gracefully and carefully and sends a clear message that emotional abuse IS abuse. It also represents the struggles of students living in poverty beyond just the obvious.

Zoey is a strong, mature character – perhaps a bit too mature at times, but she has been through plenty to make her grow up fast. Her best friend Fuchsia faces equally challenging situations.

When you’re living in a pond of algae, you turn green. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells you to stop. 

― Ann Braden, The Benefits of Being an Octopus

The heaviness is countered by Zoey’s imagination. Her favorite animal is the octopus. She imagines being an octopus with 8 arms would be helpful in accomplishing all that she needs to do, would let her camouflage herself, and she sure could use its amazing defense system. The octopus metaphor is carried well throughout the book.

If I were an octopus, things would be so much easier. I’d have one arm to wipe Aurora’s nose. Two more for holding bothe kids’ hands when I pick them up from the Head Start bus stop…One to adjust my shirt vecuase it doesn’t reall fit and it can get too revealing if I’m not paying attention, and I don’t want to be “that girl.”

― Ann Braden, The Benefits of Being an Octopus

I also loved that a teacher saw something more in Zoey and encouraged (pushed) her into joining the debate club – which led to much of the revelations she experiences. This book celebrates all the difference a perceptive and caring teacher can make in the life of a child.

Zoey’s personality and emotions really shine through in this book and you will feel them all: the anger, the hope, the despair, the empowerment,

Aack – I know I’m not doing this book justice. It was heartbreaking and lovely at the same time, truly moving, and beautifully written.
This is a book to be read by children and adults alike, and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Benefits Of Being an Octopus

Interested in The Benefits of Being an Octopus?

You can grab it on by clicking here:

Or, find your local indie bookstore by clicking here!

Looking for more books for your middle-grade reader?

Check out this round-up of fantastic books:

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Or these suggestions, straight from my (then) middle schooler!

middle school

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