“I remember what Dr. Legs had said the very first time I met her—that everybody grieves in different ways, that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Well, I thought. When she hears about this, she may just change her mind.”
Suzanne, also known as Suz, Zu, Medusa, and Belle, is grieving. Her friend from childhood, whom she’s lost to adolescence, has died in an accident. Adults talk about how sometimes things “just happen”, but Zu knows there must be more to it, that there’s no way Franny would have “just” died. In her awkward way, Zu had been trying to fix her relationship with Franny the last time they’d seen each other, but in retrospect, it she regrets what happened. Facing the truth of her life and her choices is overwhelming to Zu in a way that the people around her can’t seem to comprehend or help her with. Her interest in science develops into an obsession, but it’s not clear for some time whether it will lead her through her grief or drown her.
The Thing About Jellyfish is full of powerfully awkward and painful moments. Whether it’s the middle school lunchroom, Chinese dinners with her divorced dad, reliving her memories of Franny, or her passion for jellyfish, Zu is feeling so much and so strongly. And while many of the feelings are sad or uncomfortable, it’s a beautiful story, full of moments that make you laugh or cry or wince. Losing someone so close at such a young age is often wrapped in regret over mistakes made or opportunities missed, and Zu captures all of this with a remarkable honesty. Grief is hard to capture authentically in novels for the young, but Ali Benjamin has done it and done it well here, and I’ll be gushing about The Thing About Jellyfish for a long time.