Monday, July 20, 2015

The Thing About Jellyfish

by Ali Benjamin

Summary from GoodReads

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.

Thoughts on the book

While weaving through the booths at BEA I spotted a pile of these and pretty much went "Oooh! Pretty! Jellyfish!" before grabbing it and stuffing it in my bag.  I didn't think about it much again until after the weekend when I had all my books in front of me.  My thoughts were slightly more intelligent at that point with something like "what an awesome cover, I wonder if it's actually about flying jellyfish".  Then I got caught up in reading the books I was most excited about.  This one was sitting at the top of my unsigned books pile and every time I saw it I wanted to read it, but then decided against it since I had a feeling a wouldn't like it.  Finally, after I finished my last book I picked it up along with another that I planned on reading first, but the allure of a jellyfish made me open this one first.

My Review

This story is about a girl, Suzy, who's best friend drowns while on summer vacation a week before seventh grade starts.  The book jumps between the present, and the evolution of Suzy and Franny's friendship.  It addresses being able to process grief, and shows that things will get better, no matter how horrible the loss.

I was hooked on the first sentence: "A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating."  I found it so beautiful, my first thought after reading this was more of an image.  The jellyfish tank at my local aquarium, full of moon jellies, just pulsing, in silence.  Still, every time I read this line that's what I picture.  The sentence seems to capture the serenity and beauty of the jellyfish.  You can't just glance at them quickly, you have to stop and watch, and once you do that you get caught up in the pulsing of the creatures, the silence of them, and while caught up with that you begin to become aware of so much more.  The entire book is littered with these beautiful lyrical, poetic lines and ideas.  I loved each and every moment of it.

I love Suzy.  She's the best main character I've had the delight of reading in a very long time.  I'm fairly positive that she's autistic, but not too severe.  It is never said outright, but she's very socially awkward, very intelligent and loves facts and math.  One night, during dinner with her dad, she decided that small talk was too difficult to attempt anymore, so she just stopped talking.  Once she stopped she lost the already difficult ability to find words to express herself, so she didn't, or if she did they came out wrong.

The entire cast of characters was amazing.  Mrs. Turton was the absolute best, she figured Suzy out after her presentation, and knew exactly what to do for her.  And once she did it, everything began to click in Suzy's life.  She was such an amazing teacher and mentor, I wish all troubled kids could have someone just like her to help them through it.  Justin was great too, and I firmly believe he "wasn't chosen" as a lab partner on purpose, and I love him for that.  I loved Aaron as well, even though he's much older than Suzy he still remembered his awful middle school days and tried to help her, as best he could.  Suzy's mom was pretty great too, as was her father.  At the end of the book I was amazed at how understanding they were of her, how helpful and encouraging.

Reading this I learned more than I ever thought there was to know about jellyfish.  They're really fascinating creatures.  I'm a firm believer that the best way to learn is through a story.  It makes learning much more fun, and the facts much easier to remember.  This book captured that perfectly.  I guess this book is technically considered middle-grade (I get why, but reading it as an adult without knowing who the intended audience was, it read like an adult book, people of all ages can thoroughly enjoy it, regardless of age) and I think that it's amazing how much science is in there to get children hooked in it.  Or at least teach them some awesome factoids that they can show off to their friends (unless their friends are plastics and think pee is gross).

I give this an 11/10.  I can't express how much I love this story.  It is most definitely my favorite of the year so far, and it will be difficult to top.

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