Thursday, June 23, 2016
The Truth About Jellyfish, written by Ali Benjamin. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2015. $20.50 ages 12 and up
For Suzy, it is as if two deaths have occurred. First, the end of her friendship with Franny and then, Franny's death by drowning while on vacation.
The girls are going to be in seventh grade; things have been changing big time. Franny has been choosing not to spend time with the talkative, slightly awkward Suzy, once her best friend and now, not so interesting in comparison to boys and the popular girls. Suzy's outward response to truly losing her best friend and to her parents' divorce is to become invisible - she no longer speaks. Inwardly, she is searching for answers to why a first class swimmer like Franny could lose her life in the calm water she loved, and to her confusion over her family's new reality. She becomes adamant that a venomous jellyfish she sees on a school field trip must be to blame - after all, a jellyfish sting happens to people 23 times every 5 seconds.
Wanting to confer with an expert, Suzy makes an attempt to visit with a jellyfish scientist in Australia. The plan is risky, its realization impossible. Her tenacity and intelligence stand her in good stead, her age is a barrier to so much that she would like to accomplish. Everything unravels for her, and her silence is broken. Our chance to listen to her very real voice as she thinks critically about her friend's death and the possible reason for it will encourage discussion and response from middle grade readers.
This debut novel is filled with heart. Ali Benjamin tackles important issues: divorce, death, drama, diversity, scientific discovery and research, the natural world, grief, friendship, social isolation, and ultimately, healing. She works so seamlessly to create a place for Suzy in our hearts and to allow adolescent readers a chance to find themselves within its pages. Bravo!