Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"The Thing about Jellyfish"

Ali Benjamin's debut novel, The Thing about Jellyfish, is a New York Times bestseller, as well as a finalist for the National Book Award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Thing About Jellyfish, Suzy Swanson is sitting in a Chinese restaurant with her father -- their weekly ritual since her parents' divorce. Tonight's dinner, though, is different: Suzy's estranged best friend recently died unexpectedly, and this is the first time Suzy and her dad have gotten together since the funeral. She's just started seventh grade, and as the page begins, Suzy's father has just asked about her first week of school.

She doesn't answer him. This is Suzy’s first conscious moment of "not-talking" -- refusing to say anything unless it feels important. She continues this "not-talking" for the rest of this night, and indeed for the rest of the book.

Instead of answering her father, she thinks about science class, her favorite subject. She reflects on a fact that her science teacher told students: that each of us has billions atoms inside of us that were once inside of William Shakespeare. Suzy realizes that if Shakespeare’s atoms are inside of her, then Adolf Hitler’s atoms probably are, too — a thought too horrible to contemplate. So she turns her thoughts to science itself. Science, Mrs. Turton has told the class, is learning what others have discovered about the world and then -- when you bump up a question that no one has ever answered before -- figuring out how to get the answer you need. Those words ring in Suzy's head as she listens to the sounds of the restaurant around her -- the rumble of ice from the drink machine, the murmur of voices and the occasional burst of laughter from nearby diners.

Here, we have Suzy in a nutshell. We see her self-imposed silence, a reflection of her deep grief. We see her profound alienation from the world around her. We understand that she herself has bumped up against a question no one can answer — how could this have happened to someone I loved? — and we see her yearning for a scientific explanation. Finally, we see her dawning awareness of both the goodness and the cruelty that lurk inside of her. Readers will discover that both of things, good and evil, are there in abundance, as they are for all of us.

So, yes, I’d say that it’s a fairly accurate representation of the book as a whole!
Visit Ali Benjamin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue