The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin
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.
Review: This book taught me so much about jellyfish. Those things are creepy. And, they’re taking over the world. Or, the oceans at least. This makes me glad that I don’t live by the ocean. Colorado has an excellent jellyfish buffer around it, so I don’t have to worry about getting stung to death by something I can barely see.
The Thing about Jellyfish is part science-story, part grief-story. Twelve-year-old Suzy is a natural-born scientist. When her friend, Franny, drowns at the beach one summer, Suzy refuses to believe that Franny’s death was something that “just happened.” She suspects that Franny was stung by a rare and deadly jellyfish, and she’s willing to travel to Australia on her own to prove her theory correct.
This is one of those middlegrade books that I wish had been around when I was a preteen. It beautifully mixes the stages of grief with science facts (two things that go together strangely well), and also tackles the difficult transition from elementary school to middle school. Suzy’s obsession with science has always made her an outcast. Her outcast status becomes even worse when she enters middle school, and her friends all start caring about popularity. No one wants to hang out with a nerd like Suzy. Suzy does not react well to this. She makes some regrettable decisions in an attempt to change her place in the school hierarchy.
“Sometimes you want things to change so badly, you can’t even stand to be in the same room with the way things actually are.” - The Thing about Jellyfish
Suzy is the driving force behind this story. She’s easy to root for because she’s struggling to be herself in a middle school world that doesn’t understand her. She’s also desperately clinging to her jellyfish theory because she doesn’t want her friend’s death to be something that “just happened.” Suzy’s life is depressing, but it never feels completely hopeless. Her journal entries are funny, and she has an amazingly supportive family.
This book is elegant. There is a lot going on in Suzy’s world, which could make the story feel muddled, but it never does. Everything flows together smoothly. It’s impressive. I can understand why this novel has gotten attention from award committees. The book is also ridiculously well-written. This is one of those novels where you can imagine every sentence being typed up in fancy font and plastered all over some hormonal teenager’s Tumblr page.
“A person doesn’t always know the difference between a new beginning and a forever sort of ending.” - The Thing about Jellyfish“Maybe this is what happens when a person grows up. Maybe the space between you and the other people in your life grows so big you can stuff it full of all kinds of lies.” - The Thing about Jellyfish
Occasionally, I felt like the story got a little slow and heavy-handed. I know that this is a middlegrade book, and the author has to be obvious about certain things to get the point across to young readers, but sometimes I felt like the morals were a little too obvious. There were several times where I stopped reading and thought, Okay, everybody gets the point. Move on.
Overall, this is a well-crafted children’s book. It made my animal-loving (and animal-fearing) heart very happy.