The thing about Jellyfish

BY Ali Benjamin.

A  short review by Dr. Sugandha Gupta,

Consultant Psychiatrist, Delhi Mind Clinic.

“The thing about jellyfish” is a novel which is hailed the world over as “a shining example of the highs and lows of early adolescence” and that is right.

Howsoever, as the reader gathers momentum there is a realization that there are some emotions that transgress all boundaries, be it age, gender, relationships  or anything else. One of these is grief and that is what the author brings forth in this book. Each individual at some time in life has to accommodate to loss – loss of a person, loss of a job, loss of a relation, loss of autonomy due to illness and so on. And whatever an individual might be grieving for – it brings forth a diverse blend of emotions – sadness, longing, anger, fear, guilt, hurt, betrayal, emptiness but almost always a very strong denial.

This is a book that talks about denial, the struggle to engage with and accept reality.

“Franny Jackson drowned”

Sheer words. They probably took only a couple of seconds to come out, but they seemed to last about half an hour.


But of course her words didn’t make sense. There were a million reasons they didn’t. They didn’t make sense because it hadn’t been that long since I had seen you and you were as alive as anyone else then

” no she didn’t” I stared at my mom.

You had’t. you couldn’t have. I was sure of that.

” She didn’t” I insisted, louder his time.

Denial is not just a reflex reaction….it stays. It stays longer than one wants it to. And that because it shadows a deep dread that encompasses one’s very being. 

Suzy –  No, none of it made sense. Not then and not later that night when the earth tipped towards the stars. Not the next morning when it rolled back around to sunlight again. It didn’t make sense that the world could roll back to sunlight again.

Hours, turn to days, and then weeks and months. One slowly starts to partake in all mundane life activities and yet the grief and longing encompasses one’s heart and soul like a blanket. Over time the blanket’s warmth becomes a safe haven from all the hurt, pain and suffering. And one works unconsciously to stay within.

The protagonist in this book is Suzy, a 12 year old girl who is just about to start middle school. She is unexpectedly forced to cope with the loss of her best friend.

The loss happens twice – first at the beginning of middle school where she loses friendship when her best friend. Franny moves away to a new set of friends leaving Suzy all alone to make sense of this loss. Herein, the reader resonates with Suzy’s progressive changes in emotional states – confusion, disbelief, hope, anger, hurt, pain and guilt. howsoever, the subtle expression of emotions helps one reflect through the process of change.

The second time, it happens when Suzy’s best friend Franny drowns while on a vacation. The author takes the reader on a vivid journey inside a 12-year-old’s mind. There are moving glimpses of the pain, deep explorations of the denial and the naive interpretations of a young, hurting mind. What hits one hard is the maturity and sincerity in the emotional processing of a young 12-year-old.

How unprocessed emotions can bottle up an individual, magnifying the pain and suffering is depicted in the novel. But this novel is not Just about Suzy, it is also about her mother’s helplessness in easing her daughter’s pain, her father’s sincerity in finding ways to help his little daughter and also everyone’s patience around Suzy by being aware of her grief and giving her time to process it slowly in her own time frame and in her own way. Why is it so difficult for everyone? Because Suzy chooses to go mute until she resolves the cause of her friend’s death.

Despite the exasperation, the patient, kind and loving attempts to cross this invisible barrier not just by her family, but even her teachers and her classmates are very touching. and hence, this book is for all the caregiver’s who are full of self-doubt if they are doing enough for the little girl.

The book is as much about grief, pain and longing as much as it is about hope and strength. The book is about the innate , humongous capacity of an individual to cope with pain that lurks in each one of us.

It is a beautiful journey inside a person’s mind. It is not just relatable but deeply palpable and moving. For this very reason, this book is a  recommended reading for anyone who has struggled with or is struggling with loss and for everyone else who is trying hard to help a loved one cope up with it.

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