Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISHThis book will forever be a little mixed up in my consciousness with the place and circumstances under which I read it. Sometimes that happens to a book—like if you read it while on bedrest or on a bus on the way to Florida. This one has a stronger association for me than some. To assuage your curiosity, I will tell you: I had jury duty a few weeks ago. I showed up in the morning and an actual friend plopped down into the seat next to me, “Fancy meeting you here!” We spent the next six-plus hours reading side-by-side (and having lunch nearby), making occasional comments about the book that I was reading. Why mine? Because I really only gave my friend the ridiculous moments, but the character and outcome became a thing to laugh at and talk about. I finished the book off mere minutes before I was sent home with my certificate and pay check.

Perhaps I went on that tangent because I don’t like to give bad reviews. Especially when no one else seems to agree with me. But then I remind myself that this hard-working author has already gotten so much from this book. My unkindness won’t make a significant difference, right? I’m just bound to be honest to my own reading. Sigh.

The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, was never going to be my favorite book, whether or not I read it on a long day serving as a jury prospect. It did keep me turning the pages, because the plot is pretty interesting. The characters are okay, too, and the writing is pretty solid. Jellyfish is about a girl whose best friend has drowned and the year during which Suzy tries to work out her secret guilt about having done something mean to this “friend” right before her death. There’s an interesting quirk to the book and to the main character.

Full disclosure: this review is in disagreement with most readers. The book has won awards and gets plaudits from many readers and critics. But I can’t—just can’t—get past the so-very-millennial-ness (in the worst way) of this book. To be honest, there are things that I celebrate about millennials as a group, just as I can get together with old people and curmudgeon about them. But what the heck?!? The main character in this book is certifiable. She needs to be disciplined and institutionalized, not patted on the head and given a ribbon. I don’t want to ruin the book for you, but I’m dying to, because some of the things that Suzy does are appalling (which makes for good reading), but none of her actions have the appropriate consequences. And it’s not like that’s what the author was musing upon. No. There are just no consequences for being unstable or for committing crimes, apparently. Apparently we become better people and heal when love is tender and never difficult. Apparently, parents and adults are only any good for hugging. Otherwise, they’re scoffed at and dismissed (which, yes, is what Suzy does with the adults in her life).

Ug.

There’s not much more for me to say. I would have given the book an “okay,” and I was dying to recommend it to my son because all the bits about jellyfish and other science topics are really interesting.  But the non-consequences thing made me want to stand against it. I can’t, in conscience, place this book into the hands of any young person, because I can’t abide by the outcome (most apparent in the unfulfilling ending. Turns out that a lack of consequences makes for bad reading).

PS. My daughter was also really looking forward to reading this book and she didn’t like it, either. I’m sure she would give different reasons.

One thought on “Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

  1. How fun to meet a friend during jury duty! I’ve been on a jury twice, and served once with someone I knew a little, but I’ve never been there with someone I knew well. As for this book, I’ve never read it, but my kids have. I don’t know what they thought of Suzy’s antics.

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