The Benefits of Being an Octopus: A Novel (Paperback)
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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.
Bank Street List for Best Children's Books of 2019
2020 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Nominee
2021 South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee
2020-2021 Truman Award (Missouri) Nominee
Middle School Virginia Readers’ Choice Titles for 2020–2021
Charlie May Simon Award 2020–2021 List
Iowa Teen Award List 2020–2021
2021–2022 Young Hoosier Book Award Nominees
Named to the Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher List, Maine's Student Book Award List, Louisiana Young Reader's Choice Award List, Rhode Island Middle School Book Award 2020 List
2023 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award nominee
“This heartbreaking, beautifully written book about finding one’s voice will offer some readers a relatable reflection and others a window that can help build empathy and understanding.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review
"This engrossing debut novel...takes the reader on her journey from the dire side of the class divide to a life of cautious hope as she learns the world is big enough for choices, actions, and results." —Booklist
"This accomplished debut novel looks at poverty and domestic violence through the eyes of Zoey, who helps take care of three younger siblings for her overworked mother. While author Ann Braden tackles complex issues without being preachy, this is ultimately the story of a girl who wants better for her family—and the risks she's willing to take to achieve it. Zoey's voice is funny without self-pity, and it's easy to see how a perceptive debate teacher might notice her when others don't. The Benefits of Being an Octopus will change the way you see things, too." —Lisa Yee, author, most recently of the DC Super Hero Girls series, for NPR's Best Books of 2018
"The Benefits of Being an Octopus is a beautiful, layered look at the courage it takes to stand up to and stand up for the people you love--including yourself. Braden's story captivated me and carried me along, leaving me changed for the better. —Elaine Vickers, author of Like Magic and Paper Chains
"With grace and heart and words masterfully woven, The Benefits of Being an Octopus captures the quiet and loud masks of domestic violence. Braden navigates the complexities of choice and power and the meaning of courage. And how sometimes together, we can find our voice and our strength." —Elly Swartz, author of Finding Perfect and Smart Cookie
"This wise book knows we can't always keep the people we love safe. But it also knows that courage and compassion can sometimes turn lives around. You will care so fiercely about Zoey -- the octopus-loving, truth-telling young heroine that you'll want to wrap all eight of your own arms around her." —Anne Nesbet, author of California Book Award winner, Cloud, and Wallfish
"You are seen. You are heard. You are loved." In a perfect world, every child would know these three absolutes. Ann Braden shares this message with her readers in a funny, poignant story about Zoey, her siblings, their mother, and one very special teacher. An octopus might be the most clever creature, but it can't hold a candle (or eight) to Braden's masterfully constructed prose." —K. A. Holt, author of House Arrest
"This book will open minds, expand hearts, and change lives." —Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, New York Times bestselling author of the Scavenger series