Zoey doesn’t have a chance to worry about the normal woes of seventh grade, like homework and crushes. She’s too busy helping her family just scrape by, but with three other siblings, she’d have to be an octopus with eight tentacles to juggle every task. However, one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club and soon Zoey can’t help but examine the different sides of the relationships around her.
Zoey is such a strong and complicated character to follow throughout this novel. When she finds herself facing a difficult situation, she reverts to the knowledge of her favorite animal, the octopus, and uses that information to develop defense mechanisms that she believes help move her forward. This works on multiple levels, particularly in that we get to learn some great octopus facts, but also in that it allows her to be a very introspective character for a large stretch. Her point of view on life is so clear from the first page and it propels all the action.
And what a point of view. It’s great seeing middle grade fiction tackle economic diversity through a novel that so carefully describes one community’s poverty. There are a lot of small details about this that keep the book feeling real. This is no more evident than when exploring emotional abuse with Zoey’s mom and her boyfriend. These scenes are difficult to read, but they’re written with such empathy and understanding of how this seventh grader would see it.
I really can’t say too many great things about this book.
Ann Braden has written one of the strongest debut middle grade novels in a long, long time.
Title: The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Author: Ann Braden
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: August 04, 2018
Classification: Middle Grade
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.