Posted in Book Reviews, My Teaching Journey

The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Review

Summary from Goodreads:

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?

My thoughts

This review has been sitting in drafts for almost a week. I keep coming back to it, and I keep putting it away because I don’t know what exactly to say.

The book made me pretty emotional. I work in a school where a lot of our students come from poverty, and I think it is pretty easy to forget that not every student has hours at home to do homework or study for a test. Then, my mind really started to wander to what I can do as a teacher to help this. There are so many standards and expectations placed upon us that it is almost a necessity to assign homework and force students to work outside of school time to complete projects, but most of the time, students simply cannot do work outside of school for one reason or another.

Then there are the grumps out there who will say, “Well, I did it when I was a kid. I had two hours of homework each night. These kids are soft!” But even when I was in school, a lot of my friends had one parent (100% of the time, the mom) who stayed at home, and I went to a pretty expensive private school. I grew up in a time when it was doable to survive on one income. We now live in a society where this is not possible. I have a BA, and two Master degrees, and after nine years of teaching, we are finally at a place where if we HAD to, we could survive on one income. It wouldn’t be comfortable, and we would definitely not be able to save any money for college for our girls, but our needs would be met.

What do we do for these students whose parents are working full time jobs, sometimes multiples, just to make ends meet? These students who have to fend for themselves and their younger siblings when they get home? Do we keep saying, “Well, this is how it worked when I was a kid?” Or do we start making changes?

Now, you see why this post has taken me so long.

The book was really well-written. The main character, Zoey, was someone I definitely was rooting for to succeed. Zoey and her three younger siblings live with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend (who I hated from the first time he was mentioned), and her boyfriend’s dad in a trailer. But it’s a nice trailer, and her mom reminds her many times that they should be thankful for the nice place to live.

I found myself frustrated, then extremely sympathetic with the mom. I can’t write too much about the mom because that will give away a lot of the story, and I don’t do spoilers.

I highly recommend this book, and I am hopeful that it makes the list of the top 12 for the Truman nominees. I think the middle school students will really enjoy reading about someone they can relate to.

(Sorry for the longer post, but you now have a glimpse into how my brain functions while reading.)

Author:

14 years of teaching experience 100s of books read Countless tacos eaten

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