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 in her own backyard.
After her best friend Franny drowns—even though she was a great swimmer—Suzy Swanson stops talking. It seems everyone around her is talking, filling the silence, without really saying anything important. So she won’t talk until she has something really important to say. As she observes the world go on around her, she becomes obsessed with proving that Franny couldn’t have just drowned. Because things don’t just happen. They can’t. There needs to be a reason. If Suzy can prove that her friend drowned because of a rare jellyfish sting, then maybe she can make sense of Franny’s death.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown) is far and away the best book I have read this year. From the first page I knew it was something special. Suzy views the world with unique and beautiful focus and yet her voice is so accessible. She spoke directly to thirteen-year-old me and left me filled with so, so many achy feelings. I wish this book had existed when I was thirteen and trying to make sense of friend politics and fitting in.
This is a book about grief, about loss. But it is so much more than dealing with the death of someone close to you. It is about dealing with the loss of friendship; the confusion of drifting apart. Suzy’s memories of Franny interspersed throughout her narrative provide insight into her dying friendship. Suzy notices little changes in Franny she doesn’t understand, such as primping for a boy and laughing when the other kids laugh even though Suzy doesn’t find it funny. Suzy struggles with the idea that she isn’t enough for her friend anymore, but how is that possible when she hasn’t changed? I grieved for this gradual loss right along with her.
I read this book cover to cover in a weekend and the second I finished it, I wanted to go back and read it again. I would have finished sooner except that I kept stopping to say to my partner “Did you know that jellyfish…?” Jellyfish are fascinating creatures and the perfect vehicle for Suzy’s questions about mortality/immortality. This book left me eager to find out more about jellyfish, but it left me pensive about so much more than that, too.
Heartwrenching and heartlifting, with stunning writing, this is a book not to be missed. I’d hope you would read more than one middle-grade book this year, but if you only read one, make it The Thing About Jellyfish.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5/5 hearts — I would give this one 6 if I could)