This is a BEAUTIFUL book by debut novelist Ali Benjamin.
It’s the story of Suzy Swanson, a young girl with a penchant for science. When she learns of the accidental drowning of her friend Franny, Suzy stops speaking and becomes convinced that a rare breed of jellyfish had something to do with it. She begins learning all she can about jellyfish and comes up with a plan to prove her theory that involves careful research, note taking, and tracking down a jellyfish expert.
This novel was lovely in so many ways. First and foremost is Suzy. Suzy’s narration is honest and intelligent. Through it, we see her attempt to deal not only with Franny’s death, but also with the feeling of being left behind in the months prior to the accident. The sadness, disappointment, anger, and confusion that Suzy feels are impossible not to identify with if you’ve ever lost a friend to death, distance, or diverging interests. Benjamin captures what it feels like to not belong at a stage in life when belonging is of heightened importance and, in doing so, provides a realistic view of the pressures of growing up.
Despite the social and emotional struggles she faces, Suzy remains a loveable nerd in my eyes. Her devotion to memorizing scientific facts and sharing them, while making her an outcast among her peers, makes her unique and even funny at times. The glimpses into Suzy’s notebook and the structure of the novel itself, with its divisions based on stages of research, provide a solid underlying science theme that is fun to read and helps to balance the melancholy aspects of the novel.
My final reason for loving this book is Benjamin’s depiction of Suzy’s family. They aren’t perfect and they fail to understand Suzy in a number of ways. They are also physically separated; her mother and father are divorced and no longer living together and her brother is a university student sharing an apartment with his boyfriend. Despite these obstacles, they remain supportive and loving, ultimately providing Suzy with what she needs.
The relationships depicted in this book, paired with its honest portrayal of a young girl’s struggles are what make it a truly beautiful novel.
My final verdict: heartbreaking and heartwarming at once! Definitely go pick it up when it comes out in September.