The Thing About Jellyfish
by Ali Benjamin
The Thing About Jellyfish
published on September 22nd, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
middle grade | contemporary | grief | friendship
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This stunning debut novel about grief and wonder was an instant New York Times bestseller and captured widespread critical acclaim, including selection as a 2015 National Book Award finalist!
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting-things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.
The Thing About Jellyfish is a sweet, heartwrenching/warming middle grade that examines the way young people deal with death. Suzy’s story is quirky, clever, and appealing to readers of all ages.
I LOVED the science. Suzy is obsessed with science. She plans to use the newly-learned scientific method to prove that her erstwhile best friend Frannie didn’t drown–she was stung by a tiny, obscure variety of jellyfish. Suzy’s narrative is permeated with factoids and arranged in scientific method sections, giving the whole work a sense of her voice.
I LOVED the process. Death isn’t easy for anyone to accept. It can be especially difficult when it is sudden, unexpected, unquantifiable. Suzy struggles to accept the senselessness of her friend’s death, and finds hope in her search for the real truth, a story built of her imagination. Her emotional journey is tied up in this battle between reality and fantasy, in learning to give up control.
I LOVED the nostalgia. You don’t have to be in middle school to appreciate this. I was Suzy. I was weird. I sat alone at the lunch table because the cool girls outgrew me. I struggled with being serious and bright but also a little strange. I think anyone who’s living or who can remember those awkward years can empathize with Suzy’s growing up.
I LIKED the characters and their relationships. Suzy is a little over-the-top quirky and you can imagine how she’d be annoying, but she’s also sweet. The way she navigates relationships feels real. And she has parents. A mom who does mommish things and worries about her. A dad who’s a little out of touch but cares. A boy who freaks her out a little–because he wants to be friends. And then there’s her relationship with Frannie, told in flashbacks. Their evolving friendship smacks of preteen authenticity.
I LIKED the writing. It’s a little gimmicky, in the way of John Green’s books but dialed down for a younger crowd. But I have to remind myself, it’s not really written for me. And despite the over-quirkiness, it’s very solidly written, evocative and young without being dumbed down.
I’m a font of useless knowledge and an endless source of sarcasm. Oh, and I guess I read, too.