Julie Christine's Reviews > The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2017, read-2017, young-adult

On a Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago I met three friends for drinks and tapas at a favorite wine bar in town. We're writers, the three of us, one with nearly two dozen novels published—she and I are launching our next releases together in September, her 19th, my 2nd. Another will celebrate her debut, a literary fiction psychological thriller, in early 2018. And the third friend is in the agent query trenches with a novel that could be adult literary fiction or YA, depending on the spin and the audience. Knowing what a crazy-gifted writer she is, we offered our support and wisdom, assuring her it was a matter of time before the right agent fell in love with her story.

In the course of conversation about the crossover between YA and adult fiction, we talked about recent YA books we loved, we adults who read voraciously, but very, very choosily. And THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH was one of the first books to enter the conversation. While the others swooned over its beauty, I made a mental note to pick up a copy.

And once I did, the very next day at the literary fiction writer-friend's bookstore she owns with her poet-husband, I could not put it down.

Suzy "Zu" Swanson is a misfit. Wiry, tangled hair when the fashion is sleek and straight, a brain that blurts out unfiltered bits of information when the situation calls for giggles and small talk. She just can't get it right. But it hardly matters when her best friend Franny is by her side. Jam and Bread. Peas in a pod. BFFs that get each other without having to question or explain. Until Franny begins to pull away, aligning herself with the social elite at their middle school, leaving Zu isolated and bewildered. The harder she tries to win Franny back, the more Zu stumbles and pushes her away. The very girls they once vowed they'd never let the other become are those who welcome Franny into their fold, while ostracizing the awkward Zu.

Then tragedy strikes and the once-chatterbox Zu shuts down, refusing to speak, retreating into her sorrow like a turtle tucking into its shell. But her wiry brain continues apace, a young woman sifting through the mysteries of life, searching for logic in the inexplicable. And she finds what she believes to be the answer in the world of jellyfish. These ghostly creatures give her something tangible to hold onto in her grief. Ali Benjamin weaves Zu's jellyfish research, her exploration into the scientific method, and her deft plotting and planning into the narrative in a seamless way. The story is age-appropriate but sophisticated enough to hold young and older readers' attention with Zu's smart, aware, eager voice- one that she cannot use in the world, but that is offered to readers in warmth and curiosity.

In a heartbreaking scene, Zu attempts to travel to Australia to meet a jellyfish expert. Her plan is that together, they will present to the world an explanation that will absolve her of the burden of her own grief, a burden far too great for a girl of twelve to bear.

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH is a luminous portrait of friendship and grief, of the cruelty of youth and the resiliency of the human spirit. Younger readers will find solace in Zu's determination and big heart; older readers will marvel at the sensitivity and deep truths of a finely-wrought narrative. This is an exquisite novel.
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Reading Progress

May 2, 2017 – Started Reading
May 2, 2017 – Shelved
May 7, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
May 7, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
May 7, 2017 – Shelved as: young-adult
May 7, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Very lovely review. You can tell you are a writer.


Julie Christine Oh Carol- thank you. This novel makes us so easy to write lovely things!!


message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol Julie wrote: "Oh Carol- thank you. This novel makes us so easy to write lovely things!!"

That's so good to hear though some of the books I've loved best are hard for me to praise. I'm always afraid I'll miss the mark.


message 4: by Dianne (new) - added it

Dianne Such a thoughtful review, Julie. Adding this. I miss seeing you on GR! Nice to see you pop up again.


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