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The Benefits of Being an Octopus: 11/19/18
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is one of many recent middle grade novels that fall into the marginalized, home, blue highway category (666633) of the road narrative spectrum. It's also one of many from this year that features middle schoolers being the adults in the family when their fathers are absent and their mothers are either injured, physically ill, or mentally ill.
Zoey is a seventh grader living in the trailer of her mother's boyfriend. He also happens to be the father of her youngest sibling. Also living in the trailer is the father's TV loving, otherwise useless father. Both men do nothing but gaslight Zoey's mom and it looks like physical abuse might be next on their playlist.
Meanwhile at school Zoey is struggling. She has a debate assignment and she wants to do it on the octopus. She would love to have the extra arms of the cephalopod, or its ability of camouflage. But she has none of that. She barely has a safe place to do homework or light to do it by.
Thankfully for Zoey, there is a teacher at school who recognizes all the signs of a student in a bad situation and decides to use the debate club as a way into Zoey's life. It's through quiet perseverance that she's able help Zoey and her family. (It doesn't hurt any either that Zoey hears about all the terrible abusive things Lenny and his friends have to say about her, to realize she's a trustworthy friend in the form of a teacher).
For the road narrative project, Zoey is marginalized for a variety of reasons: her age, her living situation, and the way her mother is being emotionally abused at home. While Zoey and her mother and siblings technically have a home, it's not one that they have any control over, nor is it a safe space. It's not even a particularly home like environment. One of the goals of the book becomes finding a new home away from Lenny and his father, thus home is the key feature of the destination piece of the equation. Finally there is the two lane highway that Zoey and her family either walk along to do their errands, bum rides from others, or finally, escape along by taking Lenny's car. The highway is both a means of their entrapment and their means of escape.