The thing about jellyfish : Ali Benjamin

The Thing About JellyfishThe Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been thinking a lot about advance reviews and the timing of them. I worry, sometimes, about reviews being lost if I do them too early or lost if I do them too late. Noise. Volume. But then, as I think this, I juxtapose it against budgets and lead-in times and purchasing procedures and the reader who can’t buy it themselves but who could put a request in for their library to get it and I think of the time that that takes. Time. Weeks, maybe. Emails sent and books to be purchased, to be sent, to be catalogued and shelved and snatched off the shelf. Time, always. Plans for curriculum tie-ins, and for promotions, and to remember that reader who you see every other Saturday and who will love this book like it has always been destined for them.

And as I think this, I remember how great books are. Books that are great and books that are joyous and books that are life-affirming should be talked about and loudly talked about and I should not be reticent about doing so. Nobody should ever be nervous about talking about literature. There is such a power in doing so, in sharing your love with somebody else, and seeing that they get it.

I am brought then to The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, a book due out at the start of March, and kindly sent to me by Macmillan for review. I am brought to it this early because I think this is an important book that needs space making for it in a variety of contexts, and because the other day, as I finished it, I think I cried quite constantly for the last few chapters in that sort of breathy-half-cry-that-isn’t-a-cry-but-totally-is and I was locked to the pages and I am still thinking about it days later and writing this review full of emotion and doubt and longing to go back to it.

It took a while, this book to grasp me, but when it did I realised that it was heading that way all along. This is a novel that follows twelve year old Suzy as she comes to terms with the death of her best friend. Franny died at the beach; but Suzy is convinced that she died from a jellyfish sting. Convinced of this, Suzy decides to uncover the truth and tell the world of what happened to Franny.

A story of grief, of regret, and of jellyfish. Eccentric, really, as that sentence will no doubt make clear, but rather deliciously so. Suzy is a quietly logical and scientific individual who longs for facts and precision in this world; an instinct that runs at odds with the ragged edge of grief. As she begins her research, we start to realise that this book is more about finding answers. Resolution. Understanding of the thing that cannot ever be understood.

It is such a beautiful book this, slow and dance-like at the start, understated in its way, and it is one that builds to such a complex and painful and starkly brilliant emotional climax that I am made raw by it. I love this book. And, I think, that’s why this review is here, now.

I don’t want to forget how it made me feel. I don’t want that to dull.

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