"The Benefits of Being an Octopus" by Ann Braden, Chapters 1–6

May 14, 2019
At school, Zoey hopes no one will notice her. After school, she takes care of her younger siblings while her mom struggles to make ends meet. But when her social studies teacher asks Zoey to join the debate club, Zoey might finally learn to speak up for herself and her family.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–6, Chapters 7–13, Chapters 14–20, Chapters 21–28
I savor a spoonful of pudding.
But this project doesn’t need any glitter. And everyone else won’t have fancy poster boards with foam letters that make my flimsy piece of newsprint that the teacher gave me look like gray toilet paper.
Ms. Rochambeau, the social studies teacher, says this debate will help us understand the debates that led up to the Civil War, and Mr. Peck, the science teacher, says it’ll be a good assessment of all the work we’ve been doing about animals.
When Bryce was a tantrumming toddler and Aurora was a baby, we moved four times over the course of that year. But the one constant was this little TV/DVD combo that we toted around with us and an old DVD from the library free shelf: The Mysterious and Fascinating World of the Octopus.
That DVD would send Bryce into an instant trance, and we watched it so often that I happily memorized every word of it.
I pry Bryce’s hands off of my sweatshirt, but he keeps pushing on me with his head like a silent slow-motion ram.
I sidle up to my mom in the kitchen area, but she doesn’t thank me for my heroic feat of keeping the kids out from underfoot.
I sidle up to my mom in the kitchen area, but she doesn’t thank me for my heroic feat of keeping the kids out from underfoot.
My mom stops drying her hands to give a little laugh and a curtsy.
She used to tell great jokes, too, ones that would have Lenny doubled over laughing at her impressions, but it’s been a long time since she told one.
We watch as the Colts hike the ball and our defensive linemen close in on the quarterback. The pocket’s closing around him, and then—ooh! Even better! It’s a fumble!
She props the phone/flashlight under her chin, hefts Hector up higher on her hip, and transfers the hot dog bites onto a plate with a spatula.
Lenny is organizing his undershirt drawer with an actual flashlight, completely oblivious to the disco dance party room that he’s in.
Why is she the one that all four of us kids are related to? Why can’t it be Lenny instead? All confident and competent. No one at school would mess with me if I were like him.
“I—I know,” my mom stammers. “But I asked Connor to look at it first, and he thought it—”
My mom’s voice falters.
“He’s not someone who would judge us or anything, and he doesn’t get all flustered with forms like that and—”
Between Lenny’s obsession with his lather shaving brush and his insistence on paying attention to little details like clocks and his car’s odometer, he’s basically the exact opposite of my mom’s other boyfriends with their varying degrees of scruffiness and whose main talents were eating all the food in our fridge.
I watch him as he plods forward in his steel-toed boots, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the line of trees beyond the trailers.
“Open season until the second week of February. It’s just...” He pauses and glances at me like somehow we’re part of some awesome conspiracy.
“The bobcat is the most challenging game there is. Pure stealth. In the whole state only a couple dozen hunters will be successful this year.”
He always keeps it there in case the government goes all “ tyrannical.”
I quickly pull my backpack closer to me and start drawing a cloud in the window’s condensation.
Instead, he gets to strut down his perfectly snowblown walk, probably after having waffles, an omelet, and several strips of bacon for breakfast, and probably after his mom gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him to “Have a good day, dear.”
Now she’s leaning against the locker next to mine, her pink hair splayed out behind her.
She shrugs. “Just a few hours, but I was persistent. And I had promised Jane Kitty I would bring home a victory.”
“They will share the meat with the whole pod.” In a flash he produces a giant bag of Swedish Fish and starts passing them out.
The downsides of a growth spurt means that my mom insists on buying clothes that are two sizes too big for me when she’s at the consignment store.
And even though everything would be easier if my mom’s shift started half an hour later so she wouldn’t have to schlep him there until I could take over, I’d miss getting to see Hector and Connor together.
She’s kind of frazzled, still fixing her hair and stuff, but it’s clear she’s already switched over to work-mode mom.
I pick up the pace, and Hector giggles as if a horseback ride from a horse that’s hyperventilating is the best kind ever.
The blare of the horns is so loud that Aurora comes to an abrupt stop halfway across the road and covers her ears.
On the far side of the street Bryce is screaming and stamping his feet. He’s not even looking at Aurora anymore—it’s like he’s gone rabid.
So, I heave her up onto my opposite hip along with the diaper bag and—with all of those drivers watching impatiently—stagger across the rest of the road to where Bryce is still screaming and jumping about like his feet are on fire.
I turn back to rabid Bryce, flailing around on the shoulder of the road.
I quickly grab another rock off the ground. “I have another rock that I need you to hold.”
As he takes it in his other hand, the last bit of frenzy seems to leave him.

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