28 May 2018
The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony Press, 2018.
Zoey doesn't usually finish her homework, and the kids on her bus don't sit next to her because they say she smells bad. But Zoey has to care for her three siblings after school until it's time for bed, and when her family has enough money for a trip to the laundromat, she makes sure her brother's and sister's clothes go in first. Zoey's social studies teacher is encouraging her to be involved in the school's debate club, but how can Zoey do that and take care of her family, too?
This book delves into an often-neglected area in children's literature: children who are poor and struggle every day to find food or time for their homework. There is a scene where Zoey is holding her baby brother and his diaper bag, but is across the street from the bus that drops off her other two siblings. One of them tries to run across the street to her and is nearly hit by a car, and all the adult drivers are yelling at her about taking better care of the kids and putting more clothes on the baby, etc. Meanwhile, poor Zoey (who is only 12 or 13, since she's in 7th grade) is trying to carry a diaper bag, a preschooler, a baby, and coax another preschooler to walk home with her.
This is the reality for a lot of kids, and they are not often featured in literature. Quite often we see the opposite - families who send their children to private schools or who can afford fancy vacations, etc. There are very, very few books about kids who are food insecure or who don't get to wear clean clothes to school every day.
I was glad for Zoey's teacher encouraging her to participate in the debate club and for doing it in a way that also let Zoey have her independence. I was glad for the somewhat-happy ending. I was a Zoey, and I had a few teachers like her social studies teacher who went above and beyond to help me, too, when I had to stay home from school because my younger sister was sick, etc.
Bottom line: this is not a happy book, but it is a hopeful book, and it is a necessary book. Highly recommended.
Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: the school goes on lockdown because of gunshots in the parking lot; one character mentions that her mother's boyfriend brandished his gun in front of her; the main character's mother is verbally abused by her boyfriend
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars
Read-Alikes: Crenshaw, Maddy's Fridge
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.