Reviews

The Benefit of Being an Octopus: A Clever and Brave Middle Grade Novel

The Benefits of Being an OctopusTitle: The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Author(s): Ann Braden
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Middle Grade
Published: September 4th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
LGBTQAI+: gay side character
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

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.

My rating: 5 stars

This is a scary, brave, complicated, important book. It’s a book about getting out of abusive relationships, about the gun control debate, about things not being black-and-white, about bullying, about speaking up, about a girl with the weight of the world on her soldiers, and yes, about octopuses, too.

That’s one of the things about people on that beautiful tropical island: they can’t see who’s floating about in the ocean around them. Or maybe they can and they just choose not to look. I don’t know.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a 13-year-old girl Zoey who lives with her mother and her three small siblings in her mother’s boyfriend’s trailer. There is a lot of focus on surviving and supporting your family while poor, including the power being cut off, applying for benefits, not being able to wash your clothes, and the other kids at school laughing at you. It’s about the bitter feeling when it seems like the other kids are allowed to have Valentine’s Day gifts as their biggest problem, but you aren’t.

This book was really difficult to read at times, with many parent figures and adults who have failed these children. Some of them were trying their best and ended up doing better, while others were toxic and people you needed to get away from.

I remember thinking several times that these kids (both Zoey and some of her classmates) sound older than they are, that their debate club sounds like something we’d have at college, but then I realised that I have the wrong view on 13-year-olds and they are more mature than I’d think. I’m glad that they are, but it’s sad to feel like they have to be. There were so many things in this book that in an ideal world kids Zoey’s age shouldn’t have to deal with.

Overall, this was a difficult that very important book that deals with many different issues that some real kids have to deal with every day.

Also, shout out to teachers who notice when something is wrong and go out of their way to help.

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Reviews

Akata Witch: A Nigerian-American Girl’s Magical Adventure

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)Title: Akata Witch
Author(s): Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Akata Witch #1
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: July 11th 2017 by Speak
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: Black Albino character with Nigerian parents, Black Nigerian sidecharacters

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

My rating: 5 stars

This was a wonderful, magical adventure in Nigeria with a protagonist that I loved, and a friend group that anyone would envy.

Sunny is an albino twelve-year-old whose parents are from Nigeria, but she was born in the United States, but now they live in Nigeria again. In this book, she finds out she’s one of the Leopard people (people with magical abilities) – what’s more, she is a free agent, which means that neither of her parents have similar abilities.

I loved how imaginative this book was: all the places, creatures and people encountered, and the culture of the Leopard people was great to read about it. The concept of money being earned by knowledge (yes, money literally falls from the sky when you learn something new) was something that I simply adored. I loved the description of the spirit faces, especially Sunny’s spirit face, and I can’t wait to see how it will become more significant in the second book.

Sunny was a loveable protagonist who stood up for herself against the racism and the sexism and the world, and those who mocked her for her albinism. I loved how she called out all the messed up stuff that was happening. There was only one line that disappointed me where Sunny claimed to be ashamed of being female after she saw some other girls crowd around a boy – it was unnecessarily judgmental and didn’t fit in well with Sunny’s other comments.

I also loved their friendship group, where Sunny makes friends with two other Nigerian kids, and an African American boy who was sent to Nigeria after he got in trouble at his old school. I loved how they worked together, how protective Sasha in particular was of Sunny at the soccer match, and I loved how the differences between Nigerian and African American people were addressed.

‘Akata Witch’ also addressed several events from the real world, from the Nigerian prince scam to witch children (which was a concept entirely new to me, so don’t tell me this book wasn’t educational).

The last thing I expected in this book was a plot about a ritualistic serial killer, but I still got it – and let me tell you, the final showdown between the kids and the antagonist was scary to read, and I feel like the sequel will only get more intense.

All in all, I loved this book, and also: what do you mean the paperback of Akata Warrior isn’t out until October?!

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: The Boy From Tomorrow

36504303The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Published: May 8th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
Pages: 268 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old and a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a hand-painted talking board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them.

Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book almost in one sitting, because I simply needed to know what happened next. (Also, can we talk about how nice the cover is?)

As you can see from the blurb, this story is about two (technically three) children, Josie and Alec. They are the same age, and they live in the same house in the same room… a hundred years apart. I absolutely loved all the ways they managed to send messages to each other, like the letters or the writing on the windowsill. As Josie said, for every flower Alec found, they had to plant the seed first.

The chapters were relatively short, which made the book easier to read. Since this is a middle grade novel, I didn’t expect the plot to be too complicated, and maybe from an objective view you could call some of the parts cliché, but I still really enjoyed reading about these kids and their relationship.

And of course, there is the plotline that Alec tries to protect Josie and Cass from. I liked how both Alec and Emily (the girls’ instructor) made it clear that what was happening to the two children was not okay. I was both excited and scared for Josie and Cass, rooting for them to get out of that house and live their lives to the fullest.

In short, The Boy From Tomorrow was a quick and exciting read that I recommend to everyone.

My rating: 💌💌💌💌💌/5.

~ Alexa