I Don’t Want the Drama, Just Tell Me 110% of What’s Going On

A thirty year old unsolved murder.

A mother frozen in time.

A wife discovers a devastating secret.

A woman revisits her past.

Sounds like a Lifetime movie, doesn’t it? Except Valerie Bertinelli isn’t in this one and what happens is oh so more interesting than a movie of the week.

In Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, three seemingly unconnected lives collide head on.

30 years ago, Rachel’s daughter Janie was found murdered in a park and Rachel hasn’t moved on. What mother could? She works at a private school and has a grandson she absolutely adores; the one bright spot in a life that has seemed empty after the loss of her daughter. But now her son and daughter-in-law are going to move to New York for a couple of years and she’ll be empty again.

She’s had a suspect in mind for her daughter’s murder, a man named Connor who was madly in love with Janie when they were teenagers. Connor works at her school as a gym teacher. Over the years Rachel has hounded the police with her suspicions and knows they tend to humor her with sympathy while brushing her off at the same time.

Tess runs a successful business with her husband and her cousin Felicity who has been her best friend since birth. They’ve been inseparable. Just one thing: the two sit Tess down one evening and tell her they’ve fallen in love with one another. Oops. Sorry.

Tess packs a bag and takes their 7-year-old son Liam far away to her mother’s place to regroup, maybe start fresh. She registers her son at the private school Rachel works at and sees that her old boyfriend Connor is a teacher there. Tess begins to think about staying, getting a new job, and rekindling things with him.

Cecilia is a mother, a wife in a comfortable (if not much of a physical) marriage, and a businesswoman with a formidable Tupperware empire. She’s still in love with her husband even though they’ve been married roughly 500 years and he’s away on business most of the time. Cecilia’s life is supremely organized, everything in the right place. Life is good. It is frustrating at times with three daughters and an AWOL husband but she thanks her stars for everything good in her life.

But one day she needs to find something in the attic. She knocks down a box belonging to her husband and a letter settles to the floor. It has her name on it and it’s sealed.  She respects his privacy and doesn’t snoop, but the sealed letter is on her mind throughout the following days. She mentions it to her away on business husband and he makes her promise not to read it, to put it back where she found it.

Well, now she just wants to read it even more. One day she opens it and begins reading. What happens next will bring the three women together in a harrowing disaster that makes each of them wonder if they’ll come out whole on the other side.

By the author of Little Big Lies, The Husband’s Secret draws the reader in with fine honed characters and a twisting plot, leaving anyone to wonder: what would they do after discovering a life altering secret?

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Whenever I’m reading something online I always appreciate the kind souls who write in bold capitals: WARNING! SPOILERS! There are some mean-spirited folks out there who seem to delight in spoiling a movie or a TV series or even a book. Some butthead online ruined an episode of The Walking Dead way back in season 6 and I stopped watching the show. It was ruined.

So when I heard Stephen King was coming out with a new book titled The Outsider, I was hesitant about reading anything about it online. But being me, I went online because I had no idea what the book was about. The first word in an article about the book that caught my eye was ‘crime procedural.’ My gut sank. I may have even switched to YouTube to watch clips of cats falling off stuff.

I didn’t want a King book about crime and murder. Well, yeah, I wanted the murder part but what I wanted to read about was a monster. Give me a little of that old something’s-hiding-under-my-bed-and-is-reaching-out-to-touch-my-foot. The Outsider didn’t seem to offer up anything supernatural but hell, it’s a Stephen King book. And in the words of Misery’s Annie Wilkes, “I’m his number one fan.”

Set in the small town of Flint City, Oklahoma, The Outsider opens with the discovery of the body of 11-year-old Frank Peterson. Horrible things have been done to him. Throat ripped out, violated with a tree branch. The stuff of every parent’s nightmare. Detective Ralph Anderson begins pulling in eyewitnesses who all describe seeing the same man in the vicinity of Frank Peterson: Terry Maitland, teacher and Little League coach. In fact, Terry is a well-known and well liked citizen and has coached hundreds of children over the years. He even coached Detective Anderson’s son back in the day.

The evidence is stacking up against Terry Maitland and when the DNA comes back from samples collected from the Peterson boy it’s a match for Terry. With a few other officers in tow, Anderson decides to arrest Maitland during a huge Little League game. With the stands filled with nearly 1,500 spectators, Anderson approaches the dugout, handcuffs Maitland’s hands in front of him, and reads him his rights. Now, I know what you’re thinking (and no, I haven’t been drinking): of course this guy is guilty as hell. He tore the throat out of a child, raped him, and left enough physical evidence behind to send him to death row to ride the needle.

As Terry pleads his innocence, a little niggling worry started in the back of my mind. And I think everyone is guilty of something. But something about Terry Maitland comes across as innocent. Detective Anderson has seen many horrors during his career. He knows a child rapist and killer could be beloved by the town, attend church every Sunday, and still be a predator. Anderson thinks he has this case closed and solved, eager for Terry Maitland to go to trial and get the needle.

Then the unexpected happens and throws a wrench in Anderson’s case. At the time of Frank Peterson’s murder, Terry Maitland was 200 miles away attending a conference which had the author Harlan Coben as a guest speaker. Not only was Terry with several other teachers, the event was taped. During the question and answer period of the talk, a camera shows Terry stand up to ask a question. There’s no way Terry Maitland killed Frank Peterson. But all that DNA….how is that even possible? I went down several rabbit holes trying to think of a way that could happen. I got stuck in one rabbit hole thinking maybe Terry had a twin he didn’t know about and the twin shows up exacting some kind of ancient twin revenge. Detective Anderson is spinning his wheels, wanting Terry to go to trial and death row but also having heavy doubts.

DON’T WORRY! NO SPOILERS AHEAD.

Remember how I said I wanted a monster, something supernatural? I wanted a good old Stephen King book that was like his first dozen books? Well, he delivered. I’ll give you this little morsel. Picture it: a man with a lumpy, misshapen face and straw for eyes. That is all.

The Outsider is like a comfortable old sweater that fell in the back of your closet and is discovered only when you turn 40 and crawl into the back of your closet to cry and eat a sleeve of Oreos. Not that I do that. Often. King has created memorable characters (I was at work the other day and suddenly found myself thinking about one of them and wondering what they would do next with their life) and a plot so fast and full of action that I was saddened when I reached the end. If you’re looking for a return of the old King (Return of the King! See what I did there?) where he indulges all your dark obsessions and fears, The Outsider is a book to pick up and devour. But keep your feet from dangling off the end of the bed.

For the Love of Money

Maybe this is just plain old sexist, but when I hear about women who murder my first thought is: the guy had to have done something to deserve it. The myth of women being natural nurturers and protectors has gone by the wayside as we read about women killing their own children or committing ‘crimes of passion’ against lovers.  Even now when I hear about a female killer I wince, a knee-jerk reaction as my brain hisses “A woman? She’s supposed to be the protector of children.” But the shock has worn off as I realize humans, male or female, are capable of horrendous deeds.

This came into focus as I read the true crime work Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunnes, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter.

Belle Gunness immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1881 and married Mads Sorensen in 1884. They opened up a candy store but then fell on hard times. The store burned down and investigators were a little suspicious of the cause, but Belle and Mads collected the insurance money. They produced two children who later died in infancy. That was not unusual in those days, with the infant mortality rate being high. Belle collected insurance money on the children (which set off alarm bells in my head.)

Next Mads died from heart failure. Or should I say “heart failure??” Strychnine was found in his system and his family wanted an inquest into his death, but Belle got lucky because he was previously diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Interestingly Mads happened to die on the only day his two insurance policies overlapped and Belle was left with a healthy chunk of cash. Belle bought a 42-acre farm with the money.

How do I describe Belle Gunness without sounding superficial? Maybe because she was a monster she automatically comes off as ugly. She was a big woman, close to 300 pounds, and had a sour face that in today’s parlance would be considered RBF. She was abrasive and unfriendly to townspeople.

She met and married Peter Gunness and his infant daughter mysteriously died. Peter followed shortly after by being brained to death by a meat grinder that fell off a shelf in the kitchen. Funny how a meat grinder wound looks an awful lot like a hatchet wound. But I digress. The coroner who inspected the body of Peter Gunness was suspicious that foul play was involved. Many people were suspicious of Belle. But this was 1908 and she was considered a poor widow trying to make a living off the land and raise her children.

I think I might be the only person alive who didn’t know they had lovelorn ads in newspapers back then. It was the 1908 version of Tinder but instead of swiping left or right, you wrote looking for someone to share your life with and work on a farm. Replies took six weeks. Slowest dating service ever. Belle was looking for a man to sell all his earthly goods, liquidate his assets and move to Belle’s Indiana farm.

Many men thought they had hit the jackpot and sold everything only to arrive at Belle’s and never be seen again. Ray Lamphere, Belle’s farm hand, wondered about the room stacked with steamer trunks and piles of men’s coats. Belle explained that they were left behind and that she would send them on to their owners. I don’t think Ray was an idiot. He had a room and a job at Belle’s. He just didn’t question her.

Andrew Hegelein wanted a fresh start and sold his belongings to be with Belle. He arrived and was never seen again… But Belle’s luck was beginning to run out. Hegelein’s brothers arrived and began searching for their missing sibling, poking around and asking questions about Belle.

One evening in April 1908, Belle’s farmhouse burned to the ground. After the smoldering ruins were cleared, four bodies were found. 3 were children and the adult female was believed to be Belle. Except ‘Belle’s’ head was missing. If the tragedy of a burned home and discovered bodies wasn’t bad enough, Belle’s land began to give up its ghosts. Her paramours were unearthed from their shallow graves.

In all, the bodies and bones of 40 men and children were found. Ray Lamphere was arrested and convicted of arson but not the murders. Before he died in prison not long after the verdict, he confessed that Belle herself had burned down her farmhouse and killed her children. But the headless body was not hers. He said Belle skipped town. It was never known just whose headless body was found in that house with three children huddled around it.

Over the years there were Belle Gunness sightings. People saw her board a train wearing a black veil. Belle sightings came from many states. People were positive it was the butcheress. The police didn’t put much effort into investigating the sightings. They claimed the body from the fire was Belle Gunness, even though the body was shorter and weighed less. Years later, a woman in California killed several men by poisoning them. It was said she was Belle Gunness: thinner and aged but evidently still seeking big insurance payouts. People were divided about whether she actually was the Norwegian murderess. Belle’s whereabouts and death went unconfirmed.

Death comes in every shape and size. It can be innocent and darkly alluring. It can be a sweet ad placed in a newspaper looking for love or at the very least, companionship. There’s no judgement here on how you find love, whether it be from an app or from the back of a newspaper or during last call in a poorly lit bar. But beware the P.S. “Come prepared to stay forever.”

You Are Healed!

Back in the mid to late 80s there was this channel that would play religious ‘talk shows,’ usually with women who put their make up on with a trowel and had high hair (the bigger the hair, the closer to God) and a husband already sweating two minutes into the beginning of the show while walking through a crowd. I confess that during bouts of insomnia, (yes, 10 year olds can get insomnia; they can also remember where their mother hid the huge bag of Skittles at 3am) I would watch these shows just to see the sweaty dude go to a line of people anxiously waiting to be healed by the power of this man who was a direct conduit for God.

Even at the age of 10, I could spot that split second dismay in the ‘you are healed’ faces of the people, like they were thinking: This dude just punched me in the forehead. And then the look of acceptance: Well, it is almost a direct healing from God and it takes my attention off the drag queen up on the stage in the pink and red sequin jumpsuit so….okay. I feel the same way about figure skating. It’s a beautiful sport, an elegant and intimate dance of two bodies that know each other so well. But I only watch it hoping one of them will fall and slid across the ice on their butt.

I never said I was a good person.

I almost skipped Stephen King’s book Revival, published in 2014, because I didn’t want a doom and gloom angry God book but after the first couple of pages I was hooked. Duh. It’s Stephen King. Oh, my apologies. I know I wrote my last post about Stephen King but the man delivers and when he promises to make you forget reality through his writing, he means it.

Charles Jacobs is a new minister in town. Everybody loves him and his wife and his son, especially a young man named Jamie Morton. But Charles Jacobs’s wife and child die in a tragic car accident and Charles denounces God and all religions and is basically run out-of-town for his blasphemy. He spends years honing a side-show gimmick until something happens that makes him regain his faith and he becomes a faith healer. You see, all his life he’s dabbled with electricity and is harnessing it somehow. How very Tesla of him.

Jamie Morton is all grown up now and a musician with a nasty heroin habit. He meets up again with Charles Jacobs who uses his weird electrical gift to cure Jamie of his drug habit. But Jamie notices that he has certain side effects: sleepwalking and jabbing sharp objects into his arm as though doping again in his sleep. Jamie begins to investigate all of the people that Charles Jacobs has ‘healed.’

It turns out they’ve all had bizarre side effects from the electrical cure. Some have killed themselves or others. Just as Jamie is cutting ties with Jacobs, Jacobs informs him that Jamie’s childhood sweetheart Astrid is dying from terminal cancer. Jacobs says he’ll heal Astrid if Jamie helps him with one last big electrical experiment. Jamie agrees and Astrid is healed. By now Jamie knows that Jacobs isn’t to be trusted and is probably more unhinged than anyone thinks.

What Jacobs wants to do is harness a massive surge of what he calls ‘secret electricity.’ He’s going to bring about this dose of electricity via a lightning rod and he’s going to zap the electricity from the rod into a terminally ill woman named Mary Fay. It works but not in the way Jacobs hoped. Mary Fay is cured, but she is now a conduit for the Afterlife. Jacobs and Jamie discover there is no heaven, no reward for having lived a kind and good life. Instead, there’s a placed called ‘The Null,’ a dimension where dead humans are forever enslaved by insane creatures right out of an H.P. Lovecraft book. One creature in particular is the most powerful, called Mother, and she now inhabits the body of Mary Fay, breaking her body and turning her into a monster.

Okay, the rest I have written down in my notebook and when I got to the part explaining about the ending I thought: I like my readers, all two of them, and I’m not going to spoil the ending. But even after finishing the book I had to go have a nap and a Bloody Mary (not in that order, I’m not that talented).

Revival isn’t just about losing faith and regaining it. It’s about what people become once they lose or regain faith.

I also think it should be a cautionary tale not to mess with electricity or you’ll end up summoning a demon bent on destroying the world.

Redrum

I was going to write a blog about Stephen King’s book The Shining versus the Stanley Kubrick 1980 movie adaptation of the book, but time got away from me. Not because I’m busy. Because I rented the newest version of the movie IT and then I fell asleep (not because of the movie but because of who I am as a person) and then had to begin it again and this blog is already getting away from me and that usually doesn’t happen until the second paragraph.

Come along with me on another adventure of “What Did I Just Read?”

I’ve read The Shining 3 times. I’m not bragging. I just have a hard time remembering books I’ve read a long time ago. But I did reread it just for the pleasure of it. And because it’s one of my favorite King novels.

Picture it: Jack Torrance, recovering alcoholic (one of the scary ones with anger problems), is looking for a new start not only for himself but also for his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny. He thinks he’s found the perfect job at The Overlook Hotel in Colorado. During the brutal mountain winters (where the hotel, while mesmerizing, is pretty isolated) the place shuts down for a few months with just a caretaker to look after the enormous building. This is Jack’s chance to make up the past year of horrible behavior to both his wife and son and a chance to work on his play without distraction or interruption. He hears a story about a former caretaker years go who went stir crazy one winter in the hotel and killed his wife and children. The isolation, Jack is told, sometimes gets to people. But like with any new beginning, Jack Torrance believes he and his family can get through anything, even being cut off from civilization by enough snow to make you think it’s the apocalypse, the snowy version.

His 5-year-old son Danny has….special abilities. His parents don’t realize it because it’s 1977 and parents aren’t into hovering over their kid’s every move. Nowadays, they’d shove Danny on a reality show or have him hosting a version of Antiques Road Show where he describes the ghost hanging out with the ugly vase from someone’s attic. But in 1977 Danny’s parents think he’s a quietly imaginative kid with an imaginary friend named Tony. Sure, it’s great when a 5-year-old has an imaginary friend but when a 40-year-old woman has one they up her medication.

On The Overlook’s closing day Jack and his family get a tour of the place and meet Dick Hallorann, the chef. He takes one look at Danny and knows he has special abilities. He begins to talk to Danny telepathically. While Danny’s parents are busy looking around, Dick tells Danny that he’s one of the rare people who has a gift called the shining, he can see and sense things others can’t and will have visions of things to come. People hear the title The Shining and they forget it’s actually a good thing, the ability to shine. Dick is leaving for Florida but tells Danny that they have a special connection and he knows the hotel is one huge haunted place and Danny is going to see some seriously screwed up paranormal stuff. But if Danny needs him all he has to do is use the shine to call to him and Dick will rush back to the hotel.

So everybody leaves on closing day. Jack and Wendy and Danny spend the next few days exploring their new surroundings and everything is good. Until the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel find out just how special Danny is and are drawn to him. Thinking back, I don’t remember any nice ghosts that befriended Danny. The Overlook Hotel has a salacious past full of murder and mayhem and the dead have never moved on. Danny doesn’t say anything about what he’s seen because he knows the job is important to his parents and he hasn’t seen his father this happy in a long time.

But that happiness doesn’t stick around. The Overlook can’t get its possessive claws into Danny because of his gift but guess who it can possess? Yep. Jack Torrance. He’s having trouble writing his play (thanks to the hotel distracting him) and cabin fever is beginning to unravel him. After a fight with Wendy, Jack makes his way down to the bar where all the liquor had been removed on closing day (wouldn’t do to have a drunk caretaker stumbling about) but is now fully stocked with a bartender on duty named Lloyd.

The ghosts begin to spill out of the woodwork (Jack was warned not to go into room 237, never go into room 237 because horrible things happened there and damn it, there he is going into room 237) and drive Jack into an insanity there’s no coming back from. The ghosts of the hotel want Danny because of his shine. Lloyd urges a very drunk Jack to kill Danny and Wendy. Once you’re dead in the Overlook, you never really leave. Or is that the Hotel California? In any case, Jack is fully under the hotel’s powers and goes after Wendy. Danny, meanwhile, is giving his new buddy Dick Hallorann a telepathic SOS loud enough to almost make his head bleed.

And then…and then…well, if I tell you what happens you won’t need to read the book and I wouldn’t have done my job of getting you into the library, excited about being terrified to death by Stephen King’s writing. The Shining was King’s third novel and in my opinion one of his scariest, not just because of a hotel full of ghosts reliving their deaths but because of what isolation and inner demons can do to a person whose only goal was to start fresh. Read this book if you want to see the gradual unraveling of one man driven insane by an isolated hotel. Read about a mother trying not only to keep her child alive but also herself as her husband loses his mind. And then there’s Danny, who shines the brightest.

Excuse me, I have some other writing to take care of. All work and no play make Jennifer a dull girl.

Lullaby and Goodnight, Please Don’t Torch Me While I Sleep Tonight

In the wake of the last month and a half of sexual assault and sexual harassment stories surfacing (and what a tsunami of a wake it’s been) Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and his son Owen King dovetails with these current scandals almost too well. The book itself is not a study in men vs. women but an unveiling of humanity’s war on each other. Does that make sense? Good. It did in my head anyway.

In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia (yeah, I was a little shocked that it wasn’t set in some quaint little Maine town where sewer clowns and rabid dogs reign supreme) an eerie, almost ageless beautiful woman (you ever notice it’s never some plain woman rolling into town to upend everyone’s lives?) arrives in town. Her name is Eve Black and she’s about to turn tiny Dooling inside out.

A strange plague has swept across the world. Women are falling asleep (sometimes in the middle of walking, driving, or eating dinner) and a peculiar gauzy cobweb of a cocoon spirals out from their skin to wrap them head to toe. These women aren’t dead but deeply asleep. Females in all corners of the world are succumbing. And the women of the Dooling Correctional Facility for Women begin to fall asleep one by one.

Sheriff Lila Norcross is running on fumes the first day that women begin to fall to the sleep disease. She’s been called out to a trailer meth lab where one of the dealer’s heads has been rammed through the side of the trailer, sticking out like some deer head mounted to a wall. A nude woman at the scene named Eve Black, a serenely beautiful (but non psychopath looking naked lady to be sure) takes credit for the deaths of two drug dealers and is handcuffed and peacefully gets into the back of Sheriff Norcross’s squad car. The woman unnerves Lila in a way that she doesn’t understand.

Dr. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband, is the senior psychiatric officer at the Dooling women’s prison. Once Eve Black is settled into the prison (the labyrinth of the justice system is kinda skipped since everyone’s panicking about women falling asleep and men being left on their own to freak the floob out), Clint studies the strange woman. Now, reader, you know and I know that this Eve Black is a supernatural creature with designs of her own. But it takes the people of Dooling a little longer to catch on that she’s a part of the chaos that the sleep brings. Eve Black is able to fall asleep and wake up again without the cocoon growing from her face to wrap her body.

Frank Geary, the local animal control officer, has a volatile temper that frightens his estranged wife and his 11-year-old daughter. He’s not violent towards them but his anger is still terrifying. When the poop hits the fan and his wife and daughter fall asleep, Frank decides to take charge. By then almost all the women in town are asleep except for a handful who have access to meth and speed to keep themselves awake for a few hours longer. One of these women is Vanessa Lampley, Officer of Corrections at the women’s prison and the 2010 and 2011 Ohio Valley arm-wrestling champion. When she’s first introduced you don’t think she’s going to be a fairly major character but then the Kings surprise the heck out of you by giving her more air time, so to speak.

In the meantime, the women who fell asleep “wake up” in a Dooling that is deserted. There are no men, just the women who fell asleep. They begin to build a small but thriving society. None of the women know how it’s possible that they could fall asleep and wake up in a new Dooling to start their lives over again but they’re happier than they have been in a long while. Time passes much more quickly in this new place. But as New Dooling is getting settled some women start to disappear.

Back in old Dooling there are reports of men trying to wake loved ones in their cocoons. One news broadcast shows a man ripping away at the cocoon around his wife’s face only to have her rise up like a zombie berserker and tear into him. Men who had once been terrified of their female family members falling into a deep slumber (and many men who are blights upon society and don’t much care for women or will never admit they’re afraid of women) begin torch brigades. Yes, that’s exactly as it sounds: all over the world men are burning women in their cocoons. And Dooling is no different. People begin hiding the wrapped bodies of their loved ones in attics and basements to keep them safe.

The town of Dooling is falling into two different factions. One consists of Clint Norcross and a small band of men who want to protect the prison’s sleeping women and Eve Black because she is undoubtedly the catalyst for the slumbering women. The other group is made up of Frank Geary and a rag-tag bunch of idiots who shouldn’t be allowed scissors let alone guns. They make their way to the prison when they hear there’s a woman there by the name of Eve Black who may be the key to the disease. They’re not going there to have a friendly chat with her or sell her some Time Life books either.

Sleeping Beauties is not an anti-male or anti-female novel. In fact, it embraces humanity in all of its ugly and wonderful ways. Some of the characters, like Frank Geary, aren’t pure evil. Frank’s a father who will do anything to keep his little girl safe. Clint Norcross had a rough upbringing in foster homes where the adults would make the children fight for a milkshake. He’s not completely without shady machinations in this book but that’s exactly why it’s a fantastic read. There is no clear-cut good and evil. There is only human and slightly less human.

If you want to read a book that defies all your ideas about good and evil and makes you think about what you would do in a given situation, take a peek inside Sleeping Beauties. You may find yourself on both sides of the equation.

Except for those meth heads. Nobody’s on their side.

Rolling in the Deep

Sometimes I can be quiet. I can hear my boss laughing as I type this because according to her, I’m the giggler and talker of my group and you know what? She’s right. I’m a goofball and I like to make others laugh, which in turns gets me into trouble.

But there are times when I shut down, go still on the inside, and just listen to everything going on around me. A co-worker sneezing or shuffling papers, the tinny muffled sound of music through earbuds, a muttered phone call. Sometimes I’m quiet so I can hear what people really aren’t saying when they talk. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

In Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish, Suzy Swanson is one of those kids who just knows a lot about everything: the sleep patterns of ants, how many different kinds of jellyfish there really are out there (it’s a terrifyingly amazing amount), and that jellyfish don’t actually have hearts even though if you look at one long enough it seems to pulse as though a heart beats within. What Suzy can’t explain is how she lost her best friend Franny. She lost her twice: once to the popular group of girls in school and then a second time when Franny goes swimming in the ocean and drowns. After Franny’s death, Suzy shuts down and refuses to speak, the intensity of her grief overwhelming. She’s convinced a type of jellyfish caused the death of her friend, that although Franny was a strong swimmer a jellyfish stung her out in the water causing her to drown.

The breakup of their friendship was an eerily familiar one: Franny began changing and wanted to be a part of the popular girls in middle school while Suzy stayed true to herself and didn’t find the idea of changing herself for other people an option (note to self: always find the Suzys of the world to be friends with). When they were thicker than thieves, Franny told Suzy that if she EVER started acting like one of the airhead popular girls Suzy had her permission to do basically anything to wake her the hell up and return her to normal. During the next few months as Franny became more enmeshed with the popular kids, Suzy tried to go along with her: sitting next to Franny at the popular table and spouting off scientific facts (which I found utterly fascinating and I would love to sit beside her at lunch and learn stuff but I’ve heard it’s a little creepy for a 40-year-old to sit with a kid and talk about life).

But Franny becomes embarrassed by her friend’s brain and the things she says. Eventually, Suzy no longer sits with them at lunch and Franny avoids her and finally they’re no longer friends. Suzy comes up with one hell of a slap in the face to wake Franny up to show her she’s being a clone like the rest of the girls but it backfires. And then that summer, Franny drowns and Suzy thinks a certain type of jellyfish is the culprit. She becomes so obsessed with the idea that she makes a plan to travel across the world to meet a jellyfish expert, a man who had been stung by the deadliest jellyfish and lived to tell the tale.

I don’t really know what to tell you about the lesson of this book. People change? Yeah, they do, sometimes in unfathomable ways. To say the lesson of this book is “It’s okay to be yourself” is too simplistic. Instead, this book is about childhood friendships: ones that aren’t as immortal as we think they are. For every cause we come up with to figure out why a friendship ended, there are a dozen more whys that will never be answered. Grief isn’t owned by grown-ups alone. There is no monopoly on sadness. Children grieve and children shut down and children seek answers. If you want a book that’s all happiness and sunshine and everything ends up alright, don’t pick up this book.  But if you want to go on a girl’s journey of grief, guilt, and finding bravery in knowledge, check it out.

But stay out of the water. Those things without heartbeats might seem otherworldly in their beauty but they pack a wallop to send you into the deep, never to come back.