Distiller: Doni Faber
Rating: 4/5 Starts
Cure For: Expecting People to Read Your Mind
The Thing About Jellyfish
by Ali Benjamin
Little, Brown, and Company
September 22, 2015
Twelve-year-old Suzy faced the ending of a life-long friendship and everything had gone wrong. She had tried so hard to get her friend to understand. But now her friend was gone. Franny had drowned off the coast of Maine. And now Suzy would never get a chance to say goodbye. Or say she was sorry.
But one thing she could do was find an explanation. Things like this didn't just happen for no good reason. Maybe she wasn't the only villain of the story. Maybe the Irukandji jellyfish had stung Franny, paralyzing her and preventing her from swimming to the safety of shore. If she could just talk to an Irukandji expert in Australia, maybe everything would make sense. “Maybe if [Mom] had shown me that the world still made sense in some way, that there was still some sort of order to things-- I might not even be doing this.”
I loved this book. I loved how Suzy did exactly what alienated her from her best friend in order to cope with her best friend's death. Franny had become alienated from Suzy because she was so weird, because she would talk incessantly about such taboo topics as pee and how sterile it actually is. And now Suzy has shifted all her attention to the strangeness of jellyfish. I loved how she tried to make sense of a senseless world by grasping onto the tragic beauty of it. If only she could find an explanation, she could fix the unfixable.
The main reason I only gave this book a 4 instead of a 5 is because the whole shift of focus from unaccountable death to mysterious jellyfish remains mostly intellectual. I didn't really connect emotionally with the story despite having lost a childhood friendship without getting the chance to say goodbye.
On a side note, this book had a gay relationship that was treated normally and didn't compete for the main topic of the book. I'm glad to see more of this being mainstreamed, even in children's books.
This book is a good cure for expecting people to read your mind. Suzy refused to talk for months after Franny's death. And when she finally did present a report on jellyfish, she expected everyone to understand the impact of what she was saying. No one did. The book did an incredible job of following the distinct logic of a twelve-year-old, trying as hard as she could to make sense of something that no one understands.