Thursday, April 7, 2016

Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish (Audiobook)
Ali Benjamin
Read by Sarah Franco
Little, Brown and Company, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Grief
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

~What It's About~
Suzy has made a resolution not to speak after her best friend--former best friend--died in a tragic drowning accident over summer break.  She has been told that "sometimes these things just happen" but Suzy will not accept that and becomes obsessed with the idea that her friend, Franny, may have died from a jellyfish sting.  Delving into research on jellyfish and how to prove her theory is correct, Suzy is also tackling her first year in middle school while not speaking.  This story is about Suzy dealing with her grief, but also about changing friendships.

~The Good~
Ali Benjamin tells Suzy's story through the scientific process, introducing chapters as different parts in a science experiment because that's how she's able to deal with processing Franny's death.  She needs to have a reason that makes sense for why Franny died.  Woven throughout are flashbacks to the story of Suzy and Franny's friendship and how they grew together throughout the years and then eventually how they grew apart.  Not only is Suzy dealing with the grief of the actual death of her friend, but she's still not understanding how their friendship died before that moment.  The way Ali Benjamin deals with Suzy's grief is delicately, opening up one little piece of her heart at time. She allows not only the reader to fully understand what happened, but it allows Suzy to understand too.

Suzy has some great help along the way.  She finds kindred spirits in unexpected people who help her just by being there and allowing her to be silent.  That's also something I appreciated.  Suzy's choice to not speak is disturbing and upsetting to her parents, and although she knows they love her, Suzy really just wants them to understand.  Which they don't--not due to any fault of their own.  Without meaning too, though, she finds others who do understand--or at least accept.  They just accept her silence and still speak with her and interact with her.

Friendship and its complexities is at the heart of this novel, which is so important for a middle grade book.  Friendships become more complex when kids start moving up into middle school and it's a difficult path to wade through for kids.  Our journey with Suzy attempts to untangle and understand what went wrong and how to accept it.

Audio: Sarah Franco, brought Suzy to life.  Her performance of the novel and the voice of Suzy presented us with a girl who isn't sure of herself or anything really anymore.  She showed us a girl who is trying to understand the world, but just doesn't get it--and is hurt that it doesn't quite get her.  Her performance really made the audio.

~The Not-So-Good~
I can't find anything to be bothered with about this book.  I enjoyed it!  I really enjoyed it.  And it even forced me to go on a walk a few days when I didn't want to so that I could hear more from Suzy.

~Final Thoughts~

The Thing About Jellyfish is heartbreaking and beautiful.  If you have a 5th-8th grader I think they would very much enjoy and relate to this story.  Even if you don't have a child of that age, read it.  Remind yourself of what it's like to be different and to just want people to understand you, so you can understand the world.

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