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

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
definitions & notes only words
  1. savor
    taste appreciatively
    I savor a spoonful of pudding.
  2. flimsy
    lacking solidity or strength
    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.
  3. assessment
    the act of judging a person or situation or event
    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.
  4. tote
    carry with difficulty
    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.
  5. trance
    a state resembling deep sleep
    That DVD would send Bryce into an instant trance, and we watched it so often that I happily memorized every word of it.
  6. pry
    move or force in an effort to get something open
    I pry Bryce’s hands off of my sweatshirt, but he keeps pushing on me with his head like a silent slow-motion ram.
  7. sidle
    move unobtrusively or furtively
    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.
  8. feat
    a notable achievement
    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.
  9. curtsy
    a gesture involving bending the knees to show respect
    My mom stops drying her hands to give a little laugh and a curtsy.
  10. impression
    an imitative portrayal of a person
    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.
  11. fumble
    (sports) dropping the ball
    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!
  12. heft
    lift or elevate
    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.
  13. oblivious
    lacking conscious awareness of
    Lenny is organizing his undershirt drawer with an actual flashlight, completely oblivious to the disco dance party room that he’s in.
  14. competent
    properly or sufficiently qualified, capable, or efficient
    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.
  15. falter
    speak haltingly
    “I—I know,” my mom stammers. “But I asked Connor to look at it first, and he thought it—”
    My mom’s voice falters.
  16. flustered
    thrown into a state of agitated confusion
    “He’s not someone who would judge us or anything, and he doesn’t get all flustered with forms like that and—”
  17. odometer
    instrument in a vehicle that measures the distance traveled
    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.
  18. plod
    walk heavily and firmly, as when weary, or through mud
    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.
  19. conspiracy
    a secret agreement to perform an unlawful act
    “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.
  20. stealth
    avoiding detection by moving carefully
    “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.”
  21. tyrannical
    marked by unjust severity or arbitrary behavior
    He always keeps it there in case the government goes all “ tyrannical.”
  22. condensation
    atmospheric moisture that has changed from a gas
    I quickly pull my backpack closer to me and start drawing a cloud in the window’s condensation.
  23. strut
    walk with a lofty proud gait
    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.”
  24. splay
    widen or spread apart
    Now she’s leaning against the locker next to mine, her pink hair splayed out behind her.
  25. persistent
    stubbornly unyielding
    She shrugs. “Just a few hours, but I was persistent. And I had promised Jane Kitty I would bring home a victory.”
  26. pod
    a group of aquatic mammals
    “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.
  27. consignment
    the delivery of goods for sale or disposal
    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.
  28. schlep
    pull along heavily, like a heavy load against a resistance
    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.
  29. frazzle
    exhaust physically or emotionally
    She’s kind of frazzled, still fixing her hair and stuff, but it’s clear she’s already switched over to work-mode mom.
  30. hyperventilate
    breathe excessively hard and fast
    I pick up the pace, and Hector giggles as if a horseback ride from a horse that’s hyperventilating is the best kind ever.
  31. blare
    a loud, harsh, or strident noise
    The blare of the horns is so loud that Aurora comes to an abrupt stop halfway across the road and covers her ears.
  32. rabid
    infected by an acute viral disease of the nervous system
    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.
  33. heave
    lift or elevate
    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.
  34. flail
    thrash about
    I turn back to rabid Bryce, flailing around on the shoulder of the road.
  35. frenzy
    state of violent mental agitation
    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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