The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (5/5)

I could tell you a lot about jellyfish. The first thing I want to tell you is this: They are older than dinosaurs, older than insects, older than trees or flowers or ferns or fungi or seeds. They are at least 600 million years old, probably older than any type of living thing you’ve ever seen with your eyes or imagined inside your brain.

The Thing About Jellyfish is at once a coming of age story and a realistic representation of what it is like to lose a friend at a young age. The book revolves around Suzy, a middle school girl who is struggling to cope with the loss of her former best friend, Franny. Prior to Franny’s death, middle school had created a schism in their friendship. In a typical adolescent girl’s journey through clique politics, Suzy seems to have become an outcast as a result of bullying and Franny’s sudden rejection of the friendship they once shared. Bullied to her breaking point, Suzy does the “worst thing” in an attempt to get Franny to remember what is important. Before Suzy can make up for this misstep, Franny unexpectedly drowns on a trip during summer vacation. Unable to cope with the both her actions and Franny’s death, Suzy slips into herself and stops speaking. Seamlessly moving between memories of Franny and the present day, the book follows Suzy in her attempt to make sense of a world where “sometimes things just happen.”

The beauty of this book is that it is a girl centric coming of age story, but it follows a girl who does not conform to the societal expectations of gender (nor does she fit any stereotypes). Suzy might be gifted intellectually, but friendship and socializing don’t come naturally. She isn’t interested in make-up and she doesn’t understand why she would need to change her unruly hair. She likes science and facts and enjoys sharing what she knows with those around her. She’s very mature in someways and clearly a child in many others. This is a character I would have truly loved as a child. Especially as a child who occasionally suffered from selective mutism and didn’t really fit in easily with others (may have had something to do with spewing random facts and carrying a book used for identifying various animal’s feces). All together this book is one that should be added to the list of girl centric coming of age stories.

Next: The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir

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