Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Thing About Jellyfish

Title:  The Thing About Jellyfish
Author:  Ali Benjamin
Publication Information:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2015. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0316380865 / 978-0316380867

Book Source:  I read this book based on a recommendation.

Opening Sentence:  "A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating."

Favorite Quote:  "If people were silent, they could hear the noise of their own lives better. If people were silent, it would make what they say, whenever they chose to say it, more important. If people were silent, they could read one another's signals..."

As a child, how to do comprehend the fact that sometimes things just happen? Sometimes no reason and no explanation exists that helps to make sense of a situation. This is the big conversation that this middle grade book takes on.

Suzy Swanson and Franny Jackson were best friends. Then, they weren't. Then, Franny dies in an accident before Suzy can repair the friendship. Suzy is twelve years old, and it makes no sense. People are saying that the accident just happened, but Suzy knows there must be more. There must be an explanation. There has to be an explanation; Suzy just has to prove it.

Suzy is surrounded by those who love her, who care for her, and who are trying to help her through her grief. Her parents. Her brother. Teachers at school. Professional counselors. Yet, Suzy retreats into complete silence. She has not spoken for months since the accident. Not because she can't, but because she won't. That is how her grief manifests itself.

Now, though, Suzy think she may have found the explanation. So begins her quiet plan to prove that her friend's death did not just happen. Maybe, that will make things right. That is where the jellyfish come in.

This book is about jellyfish - yes, the book has lots of facts about jellyfish. The jellyfish experts and some of the historical details in the book are real. The author's acknowledgements actually state that this fiction "was born from a failure" to publish a nonfiction essay on jellyfish. Her research embeds itself into this story.

This book is about being a young adolescent in middle school. Flashbacks depict Franny and Suzy's friendship, and Suzy, despite her silence, continues at school after Franny's death. In both parts of the story, the book captures middle school - the popular kids and the not so popular kids, the changing friendships, and what happens when your best friend isn't your best friend anymore. The book does an excellent job of capturing the awkwardness and, often times, meanness of middle school except for one instance. Suzy's way of getting back at Franny is an odd, jarring note in the book. The inclusion of that scene still puzzles me. It seems far-fetched and out of place in the rest of the book.

More than anything, though, this book is about grief and the isolation that grief can bring on. In this, I appreciate that the book depicts Suzy as surrounded by caring adults. Her parents are both deeply committed to their shared responsibility and concern for their daughter. Her brother is much older with an independent life of his own, but he remains a constant presence and support in Suzy's life. Her teacher in school is depicted as perceptive and caring. The counselor she is working with reassures her, "... that everybody grieves in difference ways; that there's no right or wrong way to grieve." Despite her intelligence and her self-imposed isolation, Suzy is a child and needs to see that love and understanding surrounding her as do the middle grade readers of this book. This book is sad but ultimately full of hope.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment