The Benefits of Being an Octopus (hardcover)
by Ann Braden
The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a girl whose back is against the wall. Zoey is a seventh grader who lives with her mom, 3 younger siblings, mom’s boyfriend Lenny, and his dad in a trailer. They are living in poverty, and Zoey often goes without food or clean clothes. She has way more responsibility than she should, taking care of her siblings, cooking, and protecting them from Lenny, who isn’t violent, but is verbally manipulative and plain mean. Zoey does not do homework and does not feel she has any options in life. When she is given the opportunity to join the debate team thanks to a teacher who takes interest in her, Zoey is reluctant, but it changes her life for the better.
What I liked about this book is the fact that my students will be able to connect to it. It is a story that needs to be read, because it is reality. There just aren’t enough stories these days that tell the reality of my students. Poverty, hopelessness, abusive situations, filth and hunger, etc. I hope it finds its way to the hands of someone who needs to read it.
What I didn’t like about this book was the hopelessness of the parents. Both moms in this story were just useless for most of the book. It made me really angry, being a mother, because my first priority is taking care of my children. I always wonder how parents can send their kids to school without even washing their faces.
Book 74 of 2018
You Go First (hardcover)
by Erin Entrada Kelly
You Go First is told from multiple perspectives. Charlotte is a middle school girl with a best friend who suddenly turns on her for no reason, leaving Charlotte lonely, confused, and deeply hurt by her betrayal. To top it off, her dad just had a heart attack, and she is worried about him. Ben is also in middle school, and he is bullied by “cool” kids because he is geeky and awkward, but he doesn’t report the offenses to anyone else, and continues to strive for a position on student council. His parents are in the middle of an amicable divorce, but he is angry and confused by it all. He, too, is lonely. Charlotte and Ben play Scrabble online together and occasionally talk on the phone, but never relay their troubles in an honest way, though both are struggling with similar situations. They are both struggling with very relatable middle school issues while searching for who they really are inside.
What I liked about this book is how relatable it is. I love the way she writes… as if she were just in middle school herself, but can see things much clearer now. I remember feeling left out, hurt by friends, wishing to start over each year and create a new identity… it brings back these feelings for me as an adult, and I can guarantee most students will be able to relate to these two characters because of the way she describes them and their situations so vividly.
What I didn’t like about this book was that the bullies never got their punishment. But do they ever, in real life? I can guarantee the girls who tortured me in sixth grade don’t remember my name, and I’m sure they didn’t get any sort of retribution for the names they called me, or the tears I cried because of what they said and did to me. The fact that they weren’t called out just adds to the relatability of the story.
Book 16 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 62 of 2018)
Amal Unbound (ebook)
by Aisha Saeed
Amal Unbound is about a girl named Amal living in a small community in Pakistan. She is the oldest of five girls. She realizes her parents desperately wanted her newest sister to be a boy after her mom falls into a postpartum depression, and Amal is left to run the household in her place. Because her father pulled her out of school to help with the family, Amal is angry. She gets herself into trouble when she talks back to a landlord, and is taken from her family to pay their debt as an indentured servant in his house. This makes her even more angry, and frightened she will never have her freedom, her family, or her education, which she so desperately longs for. Amal must find a way to continue her education and find the strength within herself to go on.
What I liked about this book was that Amal found a way to stay strong and find a way to go on, despite the most desperate of situations. When it seemed like she would never have what she desired- an education, her family, and her freedom- she found a way to stay positive and carry on. Readers will hopefully see that despite the hardships we face, including times where we cannot control what happens to us, we have to hold on to hope, as well as find inner strength to carry on and make the most of a situation. I also appreciate that Amal’s goal in life was to get an education and become a teacher. Finally, at the end of the book, there is a blurb on Malala, a role model and cheerleader for women everywhere, particularly in countries where educating women is not a priority.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a frustrating reality. Although Pakistan is a country that is changing, indentured servitude is something that exists. We take our freedom and right to education for granted here in America. I hope this opens the eyes of my students so they realize how lucky they are to have books at their fingertips and the opportunity to learn, despite being female or poor.
Book 53 of 40
(Book 19 of 2018)