Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

"Lily and the Octopus" by Steven Rowley
First published June 7, 2016
320 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Short Of It:
"Lily and the Octopus" was by turns quirky, sweet and heartbreaking, and I recommend it for anyone who's loved a furry BFF, lived through grief, or seeks a unique, charming and raw story.

The Long Of It:
Despite being a whimsical, lovely, poignant story, "Lily and the Octopus" was a bit hard for me to read at times. Spoiler alert -- Lily is a 12-year-old dachshund and the titular octopus is a malignant brain tumor. Our beloved boxer dog, Conan, passed away a little over two years ago from lymphoma, so we have a special hatred of canine cancer in our household.

We don't have kids, so Conan was our furry baby and his departure left a massive hole in our lives. Ted, the human character in "Lily and the Octopus," is in a similar boat. He's a 42-year-old (294-dog-year-old) single gay man who works out of his Los Angeles home. Lily is his best friend, his confidant, his pizza night pal, his Monopoly opponent, his joy and his purpose and his soul mate. So when the octopus suddenly appears on her soft brown noggin, Ted is understandably horrified and distraught.

He and Lily embark on a fantastical (yes, fantastical -- you'll see) journey to attempt to defeat the octopus before he triumphs. At the same time, Ted is assaulted with the grief, the helplessness, the anger and the fear that come with saying goodbye to a beloved companion. Mixed in are adorable, hilarious and tender memories of Ted and Lily's 12 years together that any dog-lover can related to, and even some thoughtful life lessons. And reminiscing about this precious time with his sweet -- and sarcastic! -- little dachshund forces Ted to do some soul-searching about the state of his own life. The premise sounds sad -- and parts of the story are devastating because of their honesty -- but overall the book is a beautiful, fun, eccentric adventure with a satisfying ending.

Here's me with Conan in 2012. If you look closely, you can see
the shaved fur and incision on his neck from his lymph node
biopsy at the beginning of our own cancer saga.
A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to read "Lily and the Octopus." I took a long break from just about all dog-related books because they made me too sad, and one where the fictional canine has cancer would've been impossible. But two years later, it's much easier to reminisce on all the wonderful memories we have of Conan and not dwell on that bad time. In the author's note, Steven Rowley explains that the book is semi-autobiographical, and it's easy to see Rowley has gone through the same thing my husband and I have. Anyone who has lost a family member -- human or furry -- to illness will relate to all the (sometimes crazy) things Ted thinks and does in the face of the hardest days of his life.

"Lily and the Octopus" is a unique and innovative story upon a story. It's about the very special bond between man and dog, but it can also an allegory for coping with sickness and death in our (human) loved ones. It's warm, funny, sad and honest. It's both heartbreaking and heartfelt, and it's a beautiful story for dog-lovers -- and all you other crazy people. ;)

The book is full of lovely quotes, and I'll close by sharing one of my favorites:

"Because dogs live in the present. Because dogs don't hold grudges. Because dogs let go of all of their anger daily, hourly, and never let it fester. They absolve and forgive with each passing minute. Every turn of a corner is the opportunity for a clean slate. Every bounce of a ball brings joy and the promise of a fresh chase."


  1. I think this book will likely break my heart, but I went ahead and just ordered a copy. Like you, we lost our first boxer, Cicero, to leukemia many many years ago. We then lost our third one to another form of cancer about 4 years ago. Boxers and cancer, what a horrible connection they have. We tried many treatments for Cicero and gave him a wonderful 6 months...until they weren't so wonderful. We still miss him everyday so I totally know where you and your husband are coming from. We are now on #4 and #5 and I wouldn't trade my boxer kids for the moon. Just know I share your pain with the loss of Conan and he was a beautiful boy. I just know this book will make me cry, but thanks for sharing your review and your life experience - which also brought a tear to my eye. My boxers send you lots of hugs and sloppy kisses!

  2. I cannot read books like this--even now. It sounds wonderful though.


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