Sunday, September 02, 2018

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

35890044Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus
September 4th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Zoey would like to be a good student in seventh grade, but for now, she's just trying not to draw attention to herself. She likes to do her homework, but she is constantly sabotaged by her living arrangements. Her mother has moved Zoey and her younger siblings into her boyfriend Lenny's trailer, which has some advantages. It's clean, there's usually food, and they can use his car occasionally. On the down side, Lenny doesn't really want to see or hear the kids, and he is very controlling of what Zoey's mom does. Zoey also has to make sure she is home to get her two siblings from school, and pick up her youngest from her mother's work at a local pizza parlor. When she does get her homework done, it often doesn't get to school with her. When the assignment is a debate on what animal is best, Zoey knows she'll do well because she has done a lot of background reading on the octopus. Not only does she forget her notes, but she is leery of speaking in front of the class. If she were like Matt, who rides her bus and seems to have the perfect life, it might be different. Her best friend, Fuschia, can be helpful, but there are some serious issues that Fuschia is facing with her mother's boyfriend. When her teacher tries to find out why Zoey isn't getting in her work, she offers her a way to a better grade-- participate in the debate club. While this involves some juggling to get care for her siblings, Zoey is excited to be able to use her knowledge, and also hang out with Matt. Through the debate team, she starts to see how Lenny is manipulating her mom, and how their situation isn't as good as she previously thought. Eventually, Zoey talks her mother into leaving Lenny's trailer and moving in with Fuschia's mother so that the two families have support without abuse.
Strengths: Reading about the ordinary, every day life of people whose situations were different from my own was always my favorite thing to read, and my students enjoy it, too. Zoey has a lot of responsibility for sibling care, food, and even doing paperwork for her mother, and this also has a lot of appeal to students who sometimes are not even allowed to bike to school. Zoey is realistically portrayed as wanting to be a good student but struggling to find the means necessary to accomplish this. While it is a somewhat sad book, it is hopeful, and Zoey works very hard to improve her own life. This was sort of a millenial version of Warner's The Boxcar Children. My grandparents lived in a trailer park towards the end of their lives, and I can certainly identify more with this experience than that of children with a nanny in NYC, although that sort of books are more windows than mirrors for me. Braden's note at the end of the book about wanting to write so that all children can see themselves portrayed in literature is appreciated.
Weaknesses: The cover will make this a hard sell, and the steps look more like ones that would go up to a house than a trailer.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and handing out as a follow up read to Walker's Why Can't I Be You.
Ms. Yingling

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