Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden is the story of a seventh grade girl named Zoey. Zoey’s life is not easy; she has a lot on her plate. Not only is she trying to survive middle school, but she also must take care of her three siblings. Zoey’s family doesn’t have a lot of money and they are living in a trailer with her mom’s current boyfriend. One of Zoey’s jobs is to keep her siblings quiet and keep everything neat, so her mom’s boyfriend doesn’t get upset. Zoey thinks her life would be so much easier if she was an octopus. Not only would she have eight arms, but she could camouflage herself and blend into the background. Zoey can’t always get her homework done because she is busy taking care of her brothers and sister. She never has the right clothes because her mother buys everything too big, so she can grow into them. The washing machine is broken, so sometimes Zoey’s clothes are dirty, and kids refer to her as grimy. Zoey’s life is hard, but her debate teacher takes a special interest in Zoey. She thinks that Zoey’s voice is valuable. This gives Zoey the confidence she needs to stand up for herself and others.

I think this book has an important message and is a must read for all middle school students. It addresses current issues such as abuse, bullying, poverty and gun control. I believe the author does a great job of breaking down stereotypes and gives the audience a look into the window of poverty. I think that this book inspires people to speak up for what’s right, even when it’s hard to do. I liked the author’s writing style because the dialogue really made it seem like middle school students were talking. I thought Zoey was a very relatable character and it was easy to root for her. Although Zoey made some questionable choices; she was never doing anything for selfish reasons. All of Zoey’s actions were driven by her desire to help and take care of the people in her life.

The most memorable part of the book was when Zoey showed up for the debate about gun control. She has strong opinions but has been holding her thoughts and feelings in for so long. Will she finally speak up? You find yourself holding your breath to see what she will do.


Submitted by James, Twin Hickory Area Library

Books, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: The Last Message Received by Emily Trunko


Everyone experiences loss and heartbreak. Final conversations between people have a lasting affect. In this novel, readers get a glimpse of a collection of last words, texts, social media posts, emails, and anything in between. It is a heartfelt book, containing all kinds of loss from last exchanges: the end of friendships, breakups, suicides, and untimely deaths.

Full of sadness and loss, this book was relevant to everyday life, with many sudden endings. This book inspired me to reflect on my own life; every person that has come into mine, and those who I will meet again in time. This book is realistic, and filled with the everyday realities that people must face. The illustrations and word art were extraordinary and provided a complimentary element to these final conversations. Even though it is a quick read, this book leaves a lasting impression of how life and relationships coincide.

One aspect that was unforgettable was how every single message evoked a different emotion from the reader. Some are sad, while others make the reader feel pity. There is also the knowledge that even if we cannot connect with these mystery acquaintances, the readers may at least learn from and share in their experiences.


Reviewed by Katie, Grade 9, Twin Hickory Area Library

Books, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson


A child of six years at the time, Sachiko Yasui lived a modest life in her home town of Nagasaki. With her siblings Misa, Toshi, Aki, and Ichiro by her side, the little girl had no idea that August 9th was the day her whole world would be ripped apart. Even at a young age, Sachiko knew of the dangers that lurked around her, as America’s threats with Japan grew increasingly persistent during World War II. But when she saw a flash and debris pile on top of her, Sachiko learned that the road to recovery would not be easy. Through her father’s wise words and views of the world, Sachiko fights to understand the truth, and how things happen for a reason. Based on a real account of a hibakusha, this harrowing story is one that should be retold for generations to come, so that a devastating nuclear arms race shall never come about.

As the story went on, I was overcome with emotion. The grief, sorrow, and agony that Sachiko went through in the decades to follow was excruciatingly painful to read about. I’ve read many stories from different hibakusha, the bomb-affected people, about their journeys of self-discovery after the horrors of the explosion. Yet, none has ever given me the impression that I took away from this story. The vivid details, coupled with the factual background bits scattered throughout the story, made for an informative and mesmerizing read. There’s no possible way to describe Sachiko’s bravery in words, except that she is an inspiration to all. The silence, the emotion… everything about this book is beautifully written. I urge you to read this book if you can. I promise, you will not regret it.

I noticed that Sachiko took a lot of her father’s ideas and words, and found a way to incorporate it into her life. I truly resonated with Sachiko’s father and his ideas, for his main belief was that hate only produces hate. We need to live in a world of peace, and if everyone thought the same way as him, our world would be a better place. I also loved that Sachiko found her voice through her role models, from Helen Keller to Mahatma Gandhi. She truly is an exceptional woman that, I’m sure, will find a way to make her voice last for generations.


Reviewed by Mitali, Grade 10, Twin Hickory Area Library

Books, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Dog’s Best Friend by James Patterson


Rafe Khatchadorian is just your average kid with an average life at Hills Village Middle School, but his big mouth lands him in some hot water. From making his mother cry during Christmas to accusing Eddie and Ethan Finn of some serious allegations, Rafe can only make matters worse for himself. Yet, through it all, his one wish is to get a WormHole Premium Multi-Platform GameBox. In hopes of receiving this item, Rafe decides to put on his thinking cap and start a dog-walking business. But when Rafe discovers something even more sinister going on, his investigations lead him to a reality like none other. Secrets and truths start pouring out, and Rafe needs to make the right choice in order to save his life from crashing down.

James Patterson has done it again with a hilarious, yet entrancing book about the life of a middle schooler. Rafe is not only a relatable character, but also one that seems to teach younger kids lessons about honesty, responsibility, and trust. Through graphic comic strips and eye-catching chapters, I was hooked on all the situations that occurred throughout the story. My favorite character was definitely Georgia; she’s cunning, smart, witty, and, in my opinion, helped the story close to a strong ending. Personally, I never expected such a child-like book to convey themes that I would probably see in adult novels. Although I can’t give anything away, I will say that I was baffled by all the plot twists in the story.

I enjoy the fact that Rafe doesn’t live a perfect life. He has his ups and downs, which makes the book, in my opinion, a lot more interesting to read. As previously said above, the book is a lot more relatable than some other stories I’ve read. Nevertheless, I loved how Rafe was able to create some humor out of every situation he faced. If you always look at the negatives in life, you’ll never have time to reach the positive. I think Rafe did a great job of learning how to balance his negativity out, and to make the best of every obstacle he endured.


Reviewed by Mitali, Grade 10, Twin Hickory Area Library

Books, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May


This book was the climactic finale to the Falconer series. Aileana has come back, with no memory of who she was before, and with powers not meant for a human to control. The human world is falling apart, and Kiaran, the faerie who had come to mean everything to her, is lost to his own dark powers. To save her world, and his, Aileana will have to reach him, to find her Kiaran through the darkness of Kadamach – before she loses control of her new powers.

This was by far the best book in the Falconer series. It’s strong and entrancing from start to finish. I read the entire book in one sitting, because I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened next. Kiaran and Aileana were the perfect couple. They had a wonderfully complex relationship. Even though they didn’t always agree with each other, and though they sometimes took different paths to achieve their goals, one thing was certain. They were always fighting for each other. Aithinne, Aileana’s friend and the faerie meant to become the Seelie Queen, added another layer of complexity to the book. Her relationship with her brother – both the Kiaran and the Kadamach sides of him – was heartbreaking to read.

I think the most memorable part of the book was the grey morality of so many of the characters. Kiaran, Aileana, Sorcha, and all the rest have good and bad sides to them. It makes for a group of complex, compelling characters. I didn’t always agree with them or root for them, but I always wanted to learn more about them. A character struggling between right and wrong is always infinitely more interesting to me than a character who is wholly good or wholly evil.


Reviewed by Stephanie, Grade 12, Glen Allen Library