The Thing About Jellyfish

Award Nominee, death, gay characters, Young Readers

A story of loss as narrated by 12-year-old Suzanne beginning a month into her “no talking” phase, following the accidental drowning death of her best friend, Franny.

Suzanne is haunted by the last words she said to Franny at the end of their 6th grade year.  The last time she saw Franny, she had made her cry.  Fast forward to the end of the summer and Suzanne is told Fanny drowned while on a summer vacation to the beach.  As disbelief and shock takes over, she realizes the importance of words and how her words hurt her friend, and now her friend is dead.  She comes to the conclusion that one really shouldn’t speak unless they have something important to say – and most of what everyone says is not important.  Thus, her no talking phase begins.

On a class trip to the aquarium, Suzanne fixates on the Jellyfish.  She then takes a fact the class is told, about how many people are stung by a Jellyfish each minute, and in a snowball effect (or just the wide reaching trying to find logic besides “Sometimes bad things just happen”) she believes Franny must have been stung by a Jellyfish to cause such a great swimmer to drown.  Suzanne becomes obsessed with creating her hypothesis about Franny under the ruse of a science class project.

As narration shuffles through their elementary and then junior high friendship (in a very sweet, juvenile way), we are given glimpses of the typical middle school awkwardness and how friendships change.  Throughout the chapters focused on their friendship – or learning way more than I ever thought I would about Jellyfish – we see a younger version of a preteen trying to process death.  When Suzanne is first told of Franny’s death her first reaction is that that’s impossible as Franny was  a great swimmer.  Her logic is factual, like most 12 year olds.

  • Illogical it occurred.  Death doesn’t just happen, but there must be a reason she died – the jellyfish.  Questioning, but mostly confusion. If she can prove that Franny’s death was due to a jellyfish sting it will show some logic and reason to her friend dying.  I think this is totally reasonable for a 12 year-old’s thought process.  What is lovely about her journey is that she finally realizes there is no right or wrong way to grieve and while sometimes things “just happen” isn’t a good reason for us – it is the truth.

Suzanne is the awkward girl we either were or knew.  She isn’t quiet ready for the hormonal changes of middle school when girls seem to giggle differently at boys, care about lip gloss, and suddenly cliques emerge.  It’s rough to witness for a while, but her like-ability seeps from the pages and we root for her the entire time, even when she is so clearly putting her foot in her mouth or planning how to travel to a jellyfish expert.   Suzanne is simply trying to understand and in the end, her family supports her through the crazy decisions she made, a new friend supports her quirkiness, and Suzanne is OK.  To move on from a death close to you is hard, and while you may never truly recover, you can move on and that is the great realization in this story.

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