Sunday, 13 September 2015

'The Thing About Jellyfish' by Ali Benjamin: A Book Review

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.


Note: I received an advance reader copy from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Is that not the most beautiful book cover you have ever seen?
To be honest, I can't think about this book without disappearing into a puddle of tears. The Thing About Jellyfish is one of those brilliant, heartbreaking novels that take you by surprise. And before you know it, the book is over and your eyes are misty and you're missing the characters already.



I've been reading a lot of books about death, especially the death of a friend - read my reviews of Days of Awe and A Geek Girl's Guide to Murder if you haven't already - but the thing that's different about this book is the way Suzy deals with her loss.
Suzy's (ex) best friend, Franny, drowns in spite of being a good swimmer, and that's what compels Suzy to believe that the real villain is someone else: perhaps a jellyfish. And that becomes the mission that drives the rest of the novel: to find a jellyfish expert, present her findings and understand the true cause of her friend's death.

Suzy also understands the importance of silence. For the major part of the book, she does not speak out loud. Partly because she physically can't, but also because she doesn't see the point of making small talk when being quiet is so much easier. It's very interesting to read about how she overcomes her fears and decides to let people - like her teacher, her parents and a new friend Justin - into her life at the end of the novel.

I don't usually read books about middle schoolers, because maybe I'm too old to relate to most of them, but Suzy has wisdom far beyond her years. Somehow she's childlike and wise at the same time, and I love that about this story. I love the accurate depiction of school and peer pressure. I loved reading about the outcast, the weirdo, the unique one, because I've been there.


I loved the fact that this book didn't portray Suzy as older than her age. She's a simple twelve-year-old girl with a bright mind and a big heart, but at the end of the day, she's a kid.

The writing is incredible. Every sentence holds so much meaning. I probably highlighted half the book, but here are the quotes that resonated with me best:

A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating. It's their pulse, the way they contract swiftly, then release. Like a ghost heart - a heart you can see right through, right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide. 

And the whole while, your heart just keeps going. It does what it needs to do, one beat after another, until it gets the message that it's time to stop, which might happen a few minutes from now, and you don't even know it yet. 

If people were silent, they could hear the noise of their own lives better. If people were silent, it would make what they did say, whenever they chose to say it, more important. If people were silent, they could read one another's signals, the way underwater creatures flash lights at one another, or turn their skin different colours. Humans are so bad at reading.


I'd lived in the world of words for so long, I guess, that silence wasn't yet a language I understood.


All life is composed from the atoms of collapsed stars. The stars themselves were inside us. We were made of stardust.

The book is informative at the same time. I learned things about jellyfish I never knew. And heck, these creatures really are interesting. I'd have loved to hear Suzy's jellyfish presentation in school, the same way her friend Justin did.

I was hooked from the first sentence (I actually did highlight the entire paragraph, and it's also the first quote I mentioned above), and I found myself crying my eyes out all the way until the last page. It's so relatable, losing a friend in more ways than one, trying to be yourself in a world where your peers are so desperate to fit in... Suzy has suffered so much, just like so many of us who were - and still are - bullied because of their quirks. If you've ever suffered at the hands of a bully, read this book.

I'm going to go with 4.5 stars out of 5 for this one.
The Thing About Jellyfish has a fresh, unique voice, a wonderful protagonist and a story that will make your heart soar and break at the same time. I can't recommend it enough.




This one's definitely on the list of the best books I've read in 2015 - a post you should watch out for in January - and heck, it's also one of my favourite books now.

You can buy The Thing About Jellyfish from your local bookstore or Amazon on September 22nd, 2015. When you do, come back and tell me how much you loved it. Did it remind you of your own childhood? Are you excited to read this book now? Have you read any other books about death and grief? Write down any recommendations you have in the comments below.

See you around, Geeks!

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