The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden - Book Review (NOT Spoiler Free)

Monday, July 9, 2018

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?

Recommended for fans of Jason Reynold’s Ghost, 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. *

Warning: This review has minor spoilers.

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.

Rating: 3.5/5
Buy: Bartleby's Books, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Follow Ann Braden: Official Site, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter


Summary, book image, and book trailer from Ann Braden's official site.