I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Also by this author: Positive
on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues, Death & Dying, Emotions & Feelings, Friendship, Animals, Marine Life, Family, Marriage & Divorce
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A stunning debut about how grief can open the world in magical ways.
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. 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.
I love that every now and then I unexpectedly stumble upon a quiet middle grade gem. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is a book that I wanted to read for the grief aspect. I actually bizarrely enough enjoy reading books where there is a grief element, maybe because I am lucky enough to have really not had to experience this. Benjamin’s book does indeed contain this element and much, much more.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is about this middle school girl named Suzanne. She is what you might call the weird, precocious kid. Her best friend Franny drowned. This is a shock to Suzanne because Franny was a strong swimmer. When her class goes to the aquarium and she wanders away from the class to the jellyfish exhibit, Franny reads about the Irukandji jellyfish and decides that Franny was stung by one of these fish and that is why she died, not drowning. Suzanne then fixates on the subject of jellyfish and takes it upon herself to learn about jellyfish experts and to pick one to speak with to help her confirm that yes, this is indeed why Franny died. It is the only way that she is able to make sense of her grief and of the death.
Suzanne is definitely that one weird kid, as I said above. I mean, she is very precocious and smart and that is a good thing. However, she does not quite have the social skills of her peers and will not be one of the popular girls. I get it though and can even relate to being sort of like that once upon a time. I mean, her classmates are busy flirting and discussing hair and clothes whereas Suzanne is interested in things like science and much, much more. There is sort of a contrast between Suzanne and the popular girls where they come across as vapid and she comes across as deep, which seems a bit reductive, but when you are that age, I think that might be how you see the world. Regardless, she comes across as a fully realized person flaws and all which is something that I personally liked reading.
The Trouble With Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin features a friendship that has hit rough waters. The book is written with some flashback chapters that tell us what happened between Franny and Suzanne. You see, when the book opens yes, Franny is dead, but you do not realize that although she was best friends with Suzanne, at the end of her life the two were on the outs. You see, the popular girls had begun to take an interest in Franny but not Suzanne. And so, Franny leaves Suzanne for those girls. Suzanne spends much of her time pondering the why of this, and how to send a message to Franny that what she is doing is wrong. I thought this was an interesting portrayal of friendship, especially in a middle grade book where it shows how people grow apart from their friends and maybe eventually get new friends. I loved the honesty of this book in how friendship is depicted. It is not always BFF bracelets and slumber parties, but sometimes social climbing and outgrowing. Also? Franny is not the only culprit and I am also glad that is shown.
One thing that is majorly awesome about The Trouble With Jellyfish is the role that science plays. First off, there is an endlessly cool science teacher in the book who really encourages Suzanne and provides her with a safe place. Second, there is Suzanne’s obsession with science and research and being knowledgeable. Third, the book is set up into sections that use the steps of the scientific method which I thought was actually really cool. I liked this artistic decision and felt like it really reflected the themes of the book in such an apt way. It was a nice element to weave in there and it goes along with the narrative of Suzanne and Franny’s friendship turned sour perfectly.
Readers who enjoy quiet reads about unique characters will love The Thing About Jellyfish. Ali Benjamin’s book is a carefully constructed look at grief, what it means to be at the bottom of the middle school hierarchy and moving on and making new friends.