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Review of "The Thing About Jellyfish"

By Ali Benjamin
Hachette Audio, 2015
Review by Christian Perring on Feb 2nd 2016
The Thing About Jellyfish

Twelve-year-old Suzy decides to stop talking because there is no point to it. Shortly before, Franny Jackson, who used to be her best friend, died in a swimming accident. Suzy used to be a big talker, so her parents are very concerned. They decide she should see a therapist. Benjamin's novel for children and young adults deals with some deep themes, but it is charming and insightful because Suzy is a serious young girl with a quirky view of the world. She is very interested in science, and this affects her whole way of living. She is fascinated by facts, and she takes a logical approach to deciding what to do. Unfortunately, the world is often unpredictable and puzzling, and people do things that make no sense. As Suzy tells the story, we start to see how she and Franny started to drift apart. Suzy was a nerd, while Franny became interested in being popular and attractive to boys. The funniest parts of the book are where Suzi confronts the bizarre preoccupations about clothes, skin and hair that Franny and her new friends have, which make so sense from Suzy's point of view. Franny started becoming embarrassed by her friendship with Suzy, and she was even nasty to her. This all happened while Suzy's home life was becoming very disrupted, as her parents split up, so Suzy feels very alone. She is in danger of becoming completely ostracized at school, and after Franny dies, Suzy's solitude is even greater, and her eccentricity is singling her out.

One of Suzy's strange ideas is that Franny was stung by a jellyfish, and that's why she drowned in the sea. She starts researching jellyfish and jellyfish experts, and even makes plans to go and visit one of these experts, in Australia. This bizarre theory occupies much of her thinking, while she is refusing to speak. The real puzzle is whether Suzy will be able to make new friends and integrate back into her social world. She recounts her mostly silent therapy sessions and her own attempts to make sense of her life, and of course things do work out in the end. But the journey is very nicely told. Not only does the book address childhood depression, but it also has a lot to say about the social changes in girls' lives as they go through puberty.

The unabridged audiobook is performed by Sarah Franco. Of course, it's not possible for an adult reader to duplicate the voice of a young girl, but Franco does convey the youth, enthusiasm and confusion of Suzy's life, and she gives the narrator an appropriate balance of unhappiness and scientific dispassion.

 

© 2016 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York

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