children's fiction · contemporary · review

The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

“Some hearts beat only about 412 million times. Which might sound like a lot. But the truth is, it barely gets you twelve years.”

thethingaboutjellyfish

Blurb: “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.”

I stumbled across The Thing About Jellyfish in my local library and picked it up because it sounded familiar. After reading the blurb, flicking through it and reading the first page it became clear that this odd sense of familiarity was misplaced. However, the first page captivated my attention, so I checked it out and set off on a new adventure.

The story follows a twelve year old girl called Suzy who finds out her best friend, Franny, has died. The cause of death doesn’t make sense to Suzy as her friend was an incredibly good swimmer so she struggles to understand how drowning could be the cause. Through a school trip to an aquarium she learns about jellyfish and comes to believe that one type in particular was the real culprit. She starts learning everything she can about jellyfish and looks into experts who can help prove her theory to be correct.

Back when I read The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and ever since then I’ve said I didn’t think I’d find a book that would match when I experienced when reading that. Dear reader, I think I’ve finally found some competition. The writing style in The Thing About Jellyfish is utterly beautiful and has a sense of broken innocence that feels like listening to the story of a real person.

This is a story that anyone who’s experienced loss can relate to. Death is a horrible thing that we’d rather not think about until we have to face it head-on, and when that happens it’s very hard to accept. Suzy is unable to believe that her best friend could drown when she was such a good swimmer and refuses to accept that sometimes things just happen. She stops talking after hearing the news and isolates herself which almost makes it easier for her to work on her new obsession. She wants to find a reason that fits better than the one she’s been given and it’s honestly heartbreaking to read. Here you have a twelve year old girl faced with the reality of her own mortality for the first time.

The format flits between past and present and in the former scenes the reader starts to build up a picture of the friendship Suzy and Franny share. These aspects showcase the difficulty of growing up and it’s where Suzy starts to appear as a bad person at times. It’s a struggle to support her actions but this is makes her flawed and just adds more humanity to her character.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about Jellyfish but, as the title suggests, the book is littered with all the different facts that Suzy learns on her quest for the truth.

The Thing About Jellyfish is fundamentally a story about grief, loss and how to cope with it. Oh, and of course Jellyfish.

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2 thoughts on “The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

  1. Hello! First-time reader here! Quite the lovely review – I haven’t had much experience with stories like this, but The Thing About Jellyfish does sound interesting! It does bring to mind the only thing I have read: Skellig, by David Almond. Have you read that? If yes, how does it compare?

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    1. Hello! Thanks for stopping by. It’s a really fantastic way of exploring grief because I strongly feel we can relate to trying to find answers where sometimes there are none. Admittedly I read Skellig about ten years ago in school so my memory is very hazy. I would say that there are some similarities in how the protagonists deal with what they are facing but they are very different. In The Thing About Jellyfish, Suzy is very much grappling for anything that will deal with the loss of her friend and is very much convinced that she couldn’t have died the way she did; which is more of a hypothetical search for answers. Whereas Skellig is more of a real entity because Michael and his friend BOTH see the man and care for him together. They’re both different approaches to grief but beautiful just the same!

      Liked by 1 person

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