Monday 6 February 2017

#ReviewMonday with @lockwoodwriter - The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

During the first three weeks of seventh grade, I’d learned one thing above all else: A person can become invisible simply by staying quiet.

I’d always thought that being seen was about what people perceived with their eyes. But by the time the Eugene Field Memorial Middle School made the fall trip to the aquarium, I, Suzy Swanson, had disappeared entirely. Being seen is more about the ears than the eyes, it turns out.

Published by Macmillan Children's Books 2015
352 pages in paperback including illustrations by Terry Fan & Eric Fan

Summary from author’s own website*
Suzy Swanson is pretty sure she knows the real reason Franny Jackson died. Everyone says that there’s no way to be certain…that sometimes things just happen. But Suzy knows there must be a better explanation—a scientific one. Haunted by the loss of her former best friend — and by a final, terrible moment that passed between them — she retreats into a silent world of her own imagination. Convinced that Franny’s death was the result of a freak jellyfish sting, she crafts a plan to prove the truth, even if it means traveling around the globe… alone. As she prepares, she learns astonishing things about the universe around her… and discovers the potential for love and hope in her own backyard.

*Please note she is an American author so the spelling is a little different.

The strange creatures of the ocean are fascinating – and few are more weird and wonderful than jellyfish. I’ve been a scuba diver and I still love rock-pooling and snorkelling, so it’s not surprising this quirky title caught my eye. Such an attractive cover by Terry and Eric Fan - which cleverly gets across the mix of sorrow and lightness in this moving book.

Some of the best parts of Ali Benjamin’s novel are the facts – they’re fascinating and they do help the story along. You so get to know Suzy’s character and empathise with her way of coping with her loss. You don’t just feel pity, but grow in understanding.

As an aside, the inclusion of biology through Suzy’s investigations and the 7th Grade Life Science teacher, Mrs Turton, is a great feature. Young readers know the difference between fact and fiction – but their minds are open enough to run them alongside each other. More of this, please publishers.

I was actually surprised to learn it’s 352 pages in paperback. I raced through it on my Kindle – it certainly didn’t feel long. Perhaps the unusual structure (with the extracts from Mrs Turton’s advice) and illustrations take up the space. At any rate, it’s suitable for any reasonably competent reader from ten or so onwards. Elective mutism and a drowned friend might not sound like a bundle of laughs, but there’s quite a bit of humour and a good deal of heart and hope in this book.

Highly recommended for any family dealing with grief, regardless of their beliefs – and good read for anyone, unless you truly hate jellyfish.

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

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