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review 2016-12-12 13:27
The Thing About Jellyfish
The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin


I thought this novel was okay. I loved the fascinating facts about jellyfish as I am find them interesting and amazing. Suzy is obsessed with them after a school field trip and she begins to believe that they are the cause of her best friend’s death which happened while she was swimming. Suzy is consumed to find a reason for her death, to pinpoint why this unfortunate disaster occurred. Suzy’s world is filled with facts and information about jellyfish after this field trip and the more that she thinks about it, the more blame she casts on the jellyfish but she needs verification. There are flashbacks where we see the girl’s relationship for what is was, how they nurtured one another and then how things changed between them. I wondered about Suzy, I wondered if she just didn’t see the big picture or was she afraid of change or afraid of standing out. She confused me at times and I wondered if students felt the same way when they looked at her.

 

The author had a way with words; I really enjoyed reading this novel. I liked how the author used a variety of fonts in this novel. I noticed that this helped make the information stand out, it helped with the transitions in the reading and it made reading the novel smoother using this technique. There were different typeset that transitioned you into the different time periods that the story inhabited, unique lettering that Suzy used to take notes of her scientists, notebook notes and Mrs. Turton notes each had different typescript. It’s funny how you notice things like that when you’re read. It’s a novel about grief, about death and about friendship. 3.5 stars

 

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review 2016-12-06 15:32
The Thing About Jellyfish
The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

I thought this novel was okay. I loved the fascinating facts about jellyfish as I am find them interesting and amazing. Suzy is obsessed with them after a school field trip and she begins to believe that they are the cause of her best friend’s death which happened while she was swimming. Suzy is consumed to find a reason for her death, to pinpoint why this unfortunate disaster occurred. Suzy’s world is filled with facts and information about jellyfish after this field trip and the more that she thinks about it, the more blame she casts on the jellyfish but she needs verification. There are flashbacks where we see the girl’s relationship for what is was, how they nurtured one another and then how things changed between them. I wondered about Suzy, I wondered if she just didn’t see the big picture or was she afraid of change or afraid of standing out. She confused me at times and I wondered if students felt the same way when they looked at her. The author had a way with words; I really enjoyed reading this novel. I liked how the author used a variety of fonts in this novel. I noticed that this helped make the information stand out, it helped with the transitions in the reading and it made reading the novel smoother using this technique. There were different typeset that transitioned you into the different time periods that the story inhabited, unique lettering that Suzy used to take notes of her scientists, notebook notes and Mrs. Turton notes each had different typescript. It’s funny how you notice things like that when you’re read. It’s a novel about grief, about death and about friendship. 3.5 stars

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review 2016-06-23 19:37
The Thing About Jellyfish
The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

This book taught me so much about jellyfish. Those things are creepy. And, they’re taking over the world. Or, the oceans at least. This makes me glad that I don’t live by the ocean. Colorado has an excellent jellyfish buffer around it, so I don’t have to worry about getting stung to death by something I can barely see.

 

The Thing about Jellyfish is part science-story, part grief-story. Twelve-year-old Suzy is a natural-born scientist. When her friend, Franny, drowns at the beach one summer, Suzy refuses to believe that Franny’s death was something that “just happened.” She suspects that Franny was stung by a rare and deadly jellyfish, and she’s willing to travel to Australia on her own to prove her theory correct.

 

This is one of those middlegrade books that I wish had been around when I was a preteen. It beautifully mixes the stages of grief with science facts (two things that go together strangely well), and also tackles the difficult transition from elementary school to middle school. Suzy’s obsession with science has always made her an outcast. Her outcast status becomes even worse when she enters middle school, and her friends all start caring about popularity. No one wants to hang out with a nerd like Suzy. Suzy does not react well to this. She makes some regrettable decisions in an attempt to change her place in the school hierarchy.

 

“Sometimes you want things to change so badly, you can’t even stand to be in the same room with the way things actually are.” - The Thing about Jellyfish

 

Suzy is the driving force behind this story. She’s easy to root for because she’s struggling to be herself in a middle school world that doesn’t understand her. She’s also desperately clinging to her jellyfish theory because she doesn’t want her friend’s death to be something that “just happened.” Suzy’s life is depressing, but it never feels completely hopeless. Her journal entries are funny, and she has an amazingly supportive family.

 

This book is elegant. There is a lot going on in Suzy’s world, which could make the story feel muddled, but it never does. Everything flows together smoothly. It’s impressive. I can understand why this novel has gotten attention from award committees. The book is also ridiculously well-written. This is one of those novels where you can imagine every sentence being typed up in fancy font and plastered all over some hormonal teenager’s Tumblr page.

 

“A person doesn’t always know the difference between a new beginning and a forever sort of ending.” - The Thing about Jellyfish

 

“Maybe this is what happens when a person grows up. Maybe the space between you and the other people in your life grows so big you can stuff it full of all kinds of lies.” - The Thing about Jellyfish

 

Occasionally, I felt like the story got a little slow and heavy-handed. I know that this is a middlegrade book, and the author has to be obvious about certain things to get the point across to young readers, but sometimes I felt like the morals were a little too obvious. There were several times where I stopped reading and thought, Okay, everybody gets the point. Move on.

 

Overall, this is a well-crafted children’s book. It made my animal-loving (and animal-fearing) heart very happy.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-02-18 12:30
The Thing About Jellyfish
The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***

 

One-sentence summary. This somewhat predictable middle-grade novel is a good effort, and dutifully hits all the correct notes, but in the end takes itself too seriously.

 

Quick synopsis. Suzy is a bright girl who has experienced trauma: the loss of her best friend, Franny, to drowning. At a certain moment in her grief process, Suzy stopped speaking (unless she had to answer a direct question, in which case she spoke--which is sort of a relief relative to other novels that feature selective mutism). In a pivotal conversation, Suzy's mom tells her that there's no explanation for Franny's death, things like this sometimes "just happen." Suzy can't understand this, knowing what a good swimmer Franny was, and believes there must be a real cause. On a field trip to the aquarium, Suzy learns about a tiny, nearly invisible type of jellyfish with a deadly sting, and sets out to prove that this could have been the cause of Franny's death. Flashback chapters told in the present tense show that the girls' friendship was strained to the point of breaking, and Suzy is grappling with the loss of a friend on two levels, and the guilt that accompanies her last cruel act toward Franny. Meanwhile, Suzy slowly grows to trust a teacher who knows how to be there without being invasive, and a boy with ADHD who likes her for her. 

 

What's good. First, the prose in this novel is good. Second, the way Suzy's relationship with Franny unfolds in alternating present-tense chapters is excellent. The present-tense subtly ties in with Suzy's quantum-physics notion that time is relative and all moments are happening and have happened and will happen at the same time. Third, the fact that Suzy's older brother is gay and is seamlessly incorporated as a normal thing in life--brava. Fourth, although the "not talking" thing was initially annoying (this has become almost a trope in kidlit, and I wonder how common it actually is in real life), it does cleverly allow Suzy to live exclusively in her mind, where she cultivates important misunderstandings. And eventually, it's a relief when she acknowledges that you can't really learn if you're silent. Finally, the early childhood friendship between Franny and Suzy felt authentic to me--the way young children enter smoothly and quickly into deep friendships, and approach them with no biases.

 

What didn't work as well. The novel is divided into sections that follow the scientific method, as taught by Mrs. Turtin, a teacher Suzy admires. For some reason, rather than give the novel an organic structure, it winds up making it feel "constructed." Each time a section was tied to the scientific method (e.g. "develop a hypothesis"), it became a moment when I saw the author rather than the story.

 

Ms. Benjamin dutifully hits the right notes. But somehow those notes often felt forced. For instance, in the end Suzy's mother retrieves her from the airport after her failed attempt to travel to Australia. (Suzy was trying to meet a jellyfish specialist by traveling overseas.) But somehow her mother and her brother and her brother's boyfriend end up at the airport to pick her up. It makes for a lovely ending, where she is surrounded by this quirky family that adores her and wants to support her, but if you ask yourself, "How did they all get there?" it falls apart. Obviously the airline would call Suzy's mom--but would Suzy's mom then call her grown son, who lives in his own apartment? Because, what, she couldn't handle picking Zu up alone? It feels constructed by putting them all in one place to wrap the story up. (See also: "An awkward, happy ending" below.)

 

Autism spectrum disorder. I see only one other reader on Goodreads who mentions this phrase in relation to the book, and I'm interested that more readers haven't picked up on it. Suzy seems to be on the autistic scale to me, though she's high-functioning and extremely verbal: she imagines telling Franny with her eyes that the pee in the locker is the "big message," that Franny asked her to do this, that Franny hurt her feelings; in return, she fully expects that Franny's eyes will apologize. Suzy talks about the sterile properties of pee at lunch without initially seeing it's inappropriate. She's not just socially awkward, she has a profound lack of social understanding. She's often overly focused, counts and calculates obsessively, and has restrictive interests (though they're all academic). I admire the fact that the book itself doesn't label Suzy--she is simply being her authentic self. But I'm quite perplexed that readers didn't factor it into their understanding of her character. 

  

An awkward, happy ending. In the end a girl named Sarah, whom Suzy begrudgingly admired and was curious about all year, will clearly become her new best friend. This plot development fell right on the margin of feeling hopeful but also pat to me. For one thing, Suzy was only ever cold to Sarah (for instance, glaring at her when Mrs. Turtin asks her to join them in watching the science video), so it's hard to understand why Sarah would seek Suzy's friendship, particularly when the popular girls want to take Sarah under their wing. For another, there's a fine line between saying "there are other friendships after loss" (which I think Justin represents) and "another best friend will take away your sorrow." The trouble with Sarah is that we don't know her as well as we know Justin, so it's hard to avoid that second, more superficial message. And furthermore, why does Justin take an interest in Suzy? This is one of the problems with totally silent protagonists: in the real world, all children would ignore silent Suzy, even the misunderstood boy. (And what was the point in his nicknaming her Belle? I understand its thematic significance--he sees her inner beauty--but what boy actually decides to call a girl by the wrong name, consistently, even to her mother over the phone the first time he calls? It's also not believable that he chooses to do this to tie in with the "bell" of a jellyfish and counteract the other children's taunts of "Medusa." Calling her by her given name would counteract those taunts well enough.)

 

Inconsistency in Suzy's age and smarts. Sometimes Suzy was precocious, and sometimes she was dense. I don't object to that in principle, since children mature at different rates in different areas of their lives, but I do object when it seems that the uncharacteristic denseness is the author's way of manipulating the plot. For instance, Suzy is a child who can explain the concept of a rip-tide on the spot for us, but has never thought of it as a possible cause of Franny's drowning. She can research any subject on the planet, but doesn't look into whether underage international travel is allowed, or know what a travel visa is. At twelve, she doesn't know which numbers on a Visa are necessary for purchasing something online?

 

The premise is a bit artificial. Suzy won't accept "sometimes things just happen" as an explanation, and decides she'll find out the real cause of Franny's death. But this is an artificial tweaking of the difference between cause and reason on the author's part, to get the plot moving. By definition jellyfish stings (Suzy's own, prime thesis) "just happen"--so how will proving that Franny died of a jellyfish sting help her? Obviously this realization is her journey, and she summarizes it nicely at the end--there isn't a reason for Franny's death, no matter the cause--but it verges on babyish that she didn't understand all along that her mother meant exactly that.

 

Who will want to read this? At the end of the book, this was the question I was unsure about. It's quite appealing to adults who love middle-grade literature, and was perhaps a swing at a home-run: a Newbery award. But there are no small injections of humor in the novel to give it levity and nuances of joy for children. It takes itself quite seriously. How many readers have had their best friends die, and will feel a strong empathy for the protagonist? Only very cerebral, voracious middle-grade readers will be happy to consume this book. And then I wager they'll forget it fairly quickly.  

 

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review 2016-02-15 01:27
The Thing About Jellyfish
The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is a middle grade book that takes on the very challenging topic of the untimely death of a child. As such, parents will have to decide at what age the content is appropriate for their child. It is a book about grief and the isolation that grief can bring on even when surrounded by caring adults. It is also a book about being a young adolescent in middle school. This book is sad but ultimately full of hope.

 

Read my complete review at: Memories From Books - The Thing About Jellyfish

 

Source: www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2016/02/the-thing-about-jellyfish.html
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