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Public Information and Communication

October 16, 2023

Tessa Terry

Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir Chosen as 2024 One Book One Nebraska

People across Nebraska are encouraged to read the work of a Nebraskan — and then talk about it with their friends and neighbors. Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020) by Debora Harding is the 2024 One Book One Nebraska selection.

For readers of Educated and The Glass Castle, a harrowing, redemptive and profoundly inspiring memoir of childhood trauma and its long reach into adulthood. One Omaha winter day in November 1978, when Debora Harding was just fourteen, she was abducted at knife point from a church parking lot. She was thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, and then left to die as an ice storm descended over the city. Debora survived. She identified her attacker to the police and then returned to her teenage life in a dysfunctional home where she was expected to simply move on. Denial became the family coping strategy offered by her fun-loving, conflicted father and her cruelly resentful mother. It wasn’t until decades later – when beset by the symptoms of PTSD- that Debora undertook a radical project: she met her childhood attacker face-to-face in prison and began to reconsider and reimagine his complex story. This was a quest for the truth that would threaten the lie at the heart of her family and with it the sacred bond that once saved her. Dexterously shifting between the past and present, Debora Harding untangles the incident of her kidnapping and escape from unexpected angles, offering a vivid, intimate portrait of one family’s disintegration in the 1970s Midwest. Written with dark humor and the pacing of a thriller, Dancing with the Octopus is a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking narrative of reckoning, recovery, and the inexhaustible strength it takes to survive.

Debora Harding spent her childhood in the midwest prairie states of Nebraska and Iowa. At the age of nineteen she dropped out of university to work for Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign, before relocating to Washington DC to run an environmental non-profit. Fed up with politics, she cycled across America where she met her English husband, author Thomas Harding. She then joined him in the UK and worked at an award-winning video production company that focused on the counter-culture protest movement in Europe. Later, she co-founded the UK’s first local television station in Oxford and gave birth to two children, Kadian and Sam. Wanting the children to enjoy the great outdoors, the family moved back to the USA, and Debora trained as a restorative justice mediator and ran an independent bicycle business. She is now a full-time writer and activist, and splits her time between the UK and the US.

Libraries across Nebraska will join other literary and cultural organizations in planning book discussions, activities, and events that will encourage Nebraskans to read and discuss this book. Support materials to assist with local reading/discussion activities will be available after January 1, 2024 at Updates and activity listings will be posted on the One Book One Nebraska Facebook page at

2024 will mark the twentieth year of the One Book One Nebraska reading program, sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book. It encourages Nebraskans across the state to read and discuss one book, chosen from books written by Nebraska authors or that have a Nebraska theme or setting. The Nebraska Center for the Book invites recommendations for One Book One Nebraska book selection year-round at

One Book One Nebraska is sponsored by Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska, and Nebraska Library Commission. The Nebraska Center for the Book brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at and supported by the Nebraska Library Commission.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”


The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission website,    


For more information, contact Tessa Terry.