Tag Archives: social classes

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. September 4, 2018. Sky Pony Press, 256 p. ISBN: 9781510737488.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.0.

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

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.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Seventh-grader Zoey doesn’t think she’s as good as other kids at school who have nice things. She also doesn’t have the inclination to do homework because she’s too busy taking care of her siblings—Bryce (four), Aurora (three), and baby Hector—all offspring of different fathers. They and their mother live in a trailer with Mom’s fussy bully of a boyfriend, Lenny, and his cantankerous father. When Zoey’s social-studies teacher makes her join the school debate club, she begins to see situations with fresh eyes and from both sides—an ability she courageously applies to the gun debate after a school lockdown occurs. She also comes to understand that instead of succumbing to Lenny’s intimidation, Zoey’s mother has choices, including moving out and getting a protection order. This engrossing debut novel, narrated by the resourceful Zoey, takes the reader on her journey from the dire side of the class divide to a life of cautious hope as she learns the world is big enough for choices, actions, and results.

School Library Journal (August 1, 2018)
Gr 5-8-Zoey is a seventh grader in rural Vermont. Her mother works a low-wage job and the family is impoverished. Zoey must care for her three younger siblings, there often isn’t enough food to eat, and her clothes are almost never clean. Completing homework is often impossible. On top of all this, they live with her mother’s boyfriend, Lenny, who is moody and sometimes mean. Zoey knows that if she could be like an octopus, her favorite animal, she would be better able to handle all these demands, as well as camouflage herself when necessary. Zoey’s English teacher reaches out and convinces her to join the school debate club. While the protagonist is reluctant at first, she finds she enjoys it. Over time, she learns about debate tactics, like discrediting your opponent, and realizes that Lenny has been manipulating her mother. Another plot point involves gunshots in the school parking lot, which are blamed on a student who lives in the same trailer park as Zoey. This heartbreaking, beautifully written book about finding one’s voice will offer some readers a relatable reflection and others a window that can help build empathy and understanding. VERDICT Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of gun violence. Highly recommended.-Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, MA

About the Author

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. She lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

Her website is www.annbradenbooks.com

Teacher Resources

The Benefits of Being an Octopus Educator’s Guide

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Amazon

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus Publisher Page

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

GIrls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. November 6, 2018. Jimmy Patterson Books, 400 p. ISBN: 9780316561365.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Homophobic slur, Sexual assault, Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 10-12. In Ikhara, there are three castes: the chimera-like, demonic Moon; the part-human, part-demon Steel; and the fully human Paper. Paper Lei’s otherworldly golden eyes draw unwanted attention, and when she is picked to become a Paper Girl—a member of the Demon King’s human harem—she cannot say no. Lei trains with other Paper Girls, learning exactly how few freedoms she is allowed, and dreading the day the king summons her. As she navigates this new world of social graces and subterfuge, she grows close to Wren, a Paper Girl with a mysterious past. Loving a fellow Paper Girl is dangerous enough, but Wren is involved with deadlier plots, and Lei learns just how far she’s willing to follow her heart. This glittering commercial romance has real stakes, and the lavish, intriguingly conceptualized world will capture readers. This is a story about violence against women and difficult choices, and it’s rarely easy to read. Love stories between women are still disappointingly few in fantasy, and romance and action fans alike will find much to savor here.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2018)
Thrust into the beauty and horror of the Hidden Palace, will this Paper Girl survive? Ngan (The Memory Keepers, 2014, etc.) offers an amalgamation of Asian cultures set in a fantasy world reminiscent of imperial China. Individuals are separated into three castes: Moon, the ruling class that is wholly demon; Steel, who are human-demon hybrids; and Paper, the oppressed population that is entirely human. Seventeen-year-old Lei is dragged from her small village to become a Paper Girl, or concubine. Besides her long, raven hair, her only striking features are her unusual gold eyes. She reluctantly submits in the slim hope of finding her mother, who was abducted. While in the Palace, Lei lives as best she can, developing friendships and finding forbidden love in the arms of Wren, another Paper Girl, who possesses a feline elegance and is hiding secrets of her own. Lei’s natural clumsiness and the requirements of learning court manners keep her out of the King’s bed for a while, but sexual violence and the threat of it, though not graphically depicted, are prevalent throughout the story. Lei can be painfully naïve at times and, unfortunately, does not have fire superpowers as the title might suggest. The setup and worldbuilding are strong, but many supporting characters are unfortunately more interesting than Lei. Setting up a strong foundation for a hoped-for sequel, this is ideal for those seeking diverse LGBTQ fantasy stories. (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger.

She recently moved to Paris, where she likes to imagine she drifts stylishly from brasserie to brasserie, notepad in one hand, wineglass in the other. In reality, she spends most of her time getting lost on the metro and confusing locals with her French.

Her website is natashangan.com

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Girls of Paper and Fire on Amazon

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Girls of Paper and Fire Publisher Page

Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Munmun by Jesse Andrews. April 3, 2018. Harry N. Abrams, 407 p. ISBN: 9781419728716.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1170.

In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.

Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?

A brilliant, warm, funny trip, unlike anything else out there, and a social novel for our time in the tradition of 1984 or Invisible Man. Inequality is made intensely visceral by an adventure and tragedy both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Strong sexual themes, Sexual assault, Marijuana, Drug abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. Here’s a bizarre premise: in Andrews’ scathing satire of economic inequality, rich citizens “scale up” to hundreds of feet tall, towering over “littlepoors” so small they live in shoeboxes. Getting out of poverty is almost impossible when there are no schools small enough to learn in, and it takes hours to traverse the distance a rich person could walk in a single step. But littlepoor Warner is trying to scale up anyway. In a wry, rage-filled voice peppered with A Clockwork Orange–type slang, Warner narrates his Dickensian journey through an unjust system designed to keep bigriches gigantic and littlepoors miniscule. Andrews gives himself a gargantuan task here, and there are elements that don’t deliver. For a novel skewering a system so inexorably tied to race, for instance, the absence of a critique of racism is glaring. And yet, there are pithy, sharp moments, too, particularly the illuminating descriptions of the vast, visible gulf between rich and poor. Though it occasionally misses the mark, it nevertheless offers a unique, caustic, thought-provoking lampoon of America’s obsession with wealth.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2018)
In a world where wealth—the titular munmun—determines physical size and people range from littlepoor (rat-small) to bigrich (10 stories tall), three tiny teens set out to scale up; a wild ride ensues. Rendered a paraplegic by a cat who bats her about like a rat, Warner’s mother orders him to take his sister, Prayer, to law school and help find her an upscale husband. Warner’s skeptical—they’re illiterate, for one thing. Usher, a literate friend with palsy who’s smitten with Prayer, joins them. Trouble starts when they accept a ride from a middlerich man and end up in his model-train layout. Worse is to come. Prayer’s looks, Usher’s smarts, and Warner’s ability to shape Dreamworld (a place accessible only in deep sleep, where all are of equal scale) fail to prevent disaster. Offered a home and education by a politician, Warner insists Prayer be invited, too. They’re hardworking and motivated, but some littlepoor deficits prove intractable. Warner’s distinctive voice and language compel readers to pay attention to this detailed world. Wealth rather than skin color (orange, ruby, plum, gray) confers status. Bankers Scale Up those who’ve acquired wealth and Scale Down those who’ve lost or (rarely) relinquished it. Literally embodied in the characters, income inequality becomes a horrific reality; economic theories and realpolitik sangfroid are juxtaposed with their real-world consequences. Angry and the victim of his best impulses, Warner’s no superhero. Superpowers and soothing bromides won’t mend his broken, fragile world; pull the right thread and it might unravel. Brilliant, savage, hilarious, a riveting journey through a harsh world that mirrors our own. (Dystopian fantasy. 12-17)

About the Author

Jesse Andrews is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Abrams Books, 2012). He is also the writer of the feature-film adaptation of his own book, also entitled Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and is a graduate of Schenley High School and Harvard University. He currently makes his home in Boston, MA.  His website is www.jesseandrews.com.

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Munmun on Amazon

Munmun on Goodreads

Munmun Publisher Page