“There’s no single right way to say goodbye to someone you love. But the most important thing is that you keep some part of them inside you.”Ali Benjamin
A seventh grader, named Suzy, loses her best friend, Franny, in a drowning incident. However, Suzy is convinced that Franny didn’t drown, but instead, was stung by an extremely rare and dangerous jellyfish. After hearing the news about Franny, Suzy retreats into herself and refuses to talk. She spends her time researching jellyfish and trying to decide what professional she wants to reach out to for help so that she can prove her theory. Suzy finds out things about jellyfish and herself in her long journey of dealing with loss of someone near and dear to her.
First, I had zero expectations going into this book. I bought it because I loved the title and the cover. When I started reading it, I realized it was about a middle schooler that has experienced the loss of a friend. I didn’t know if I was going to like this book very much after the first handful of pages, but I am so happy that I continued.
Being a science teacher I loved that the sections of the book are split up to represent the parts of research/the scientific method. It really emphasized the efforts that Suzy was putting into her research and was a great outline for the research she had to do for her class project, too!
I enjoyed Suzy’s character a lot. Even though she didn’t talk to people, her internal thoughts were so detailed and emphasized how observant she was to what was going on around her. I really felt what she was feeling when she was feeling it. I think she is a relatable character, especially for the age group she portrays (middle school). Her parents were divorced and she had to split her time between them, she experienced a big loss, and dealt with all the same things that kids in middle school do. I think if a 13 year old read this book they may find themselves relating to Suzy more than they anticipated.
To me, Suzy’s research means so much more than just figuring out the cause of her friend’s death. She is convinced that things just don’t happen and that there is a reason/cause. Her research, in my eyes, was a way for Suzy to also find and define herself, this version of her without her best friend. She’s looking for a way to remedy her friend’s death, but deep down, Suzy is looking for who she is. On the surface, yeah it seems like she is obsessed with solving her friend’s death, but there’s more to Suzy than that and, I think the reader can see that before Suzy does.
Suzy’s narrations are also believable and real. She has extraordinary thoughts for her age, but then she does have ideas/thoughts that remind readers that she is only in 7th grade. Since I teach 7th grade, I can see a lot of my students in Suzy and the story really touched my heart because I related to it in that way. I also appreciated the jellyfish aspect of the story. I liked how facts were thrown in about jellyfish and it was a fun way to learn about the creatures. The way that Ali Benjamin described jellyfish was beautiful as well. One that sticks out to me particularly is when she describes their tentacles as reminding Suzy of Franny’s fiery hair.
If I didn’t teach middle schoolers, I don’t necessarily think that I would have loved this book as much as I did. It was a great middle grade story that could even go into the younger ages of the young adult genre! Nonetheless, I still loved the story. I haven’t read anything like this for a while and I enjoyed the tie in of nature.
Overall, this earned 4 stars from me and I hope that I can encourage others (maybe younger readers) to pick up this book. Whenever I get back to school, this may just live in my classroom library!