Jelly- Clare Rees

Wow this is such a boldly interesting story from Clare Rees exploring the struggles of living on a jellyfish-like creature after an apocalyptic event.

It’s not quite a traditional Young Adult book even though the dangers are darker than middle grade, for me it’s perfectly pitched for that Teen gap thanks to its characters’ beautiful innocence, futile spite, soul-deep longing and gross humour summing up that state of early to mid teens.

Content notice: Some coarse language, death, references to sex

Cover by Helen Crawford White

Martha has been living on a jellyfish like creature the size of a rugby pitch for so long she can’t remember what colour her hair really is or what she looks like. All she knows is that it’s a purgatory existence since the seas rose and monsters emerged changing life as we know it and every escape attempt seems to be met with a gentle return by the creatures tentacles… until one day when it seems to be getting angry.

When Martha and her friends James, Lana and Kate realise there are land-living survivors they are even more desperate to get to land, even if the dangers there may be just as scary, anything beats waiting to die on the jelly.

“Do you think it’ll be worse being stuck here knowing that they’re out there?…You know, worse than it was yesterday, when we thought there was nobody else alive?’

The ‘child’ characters have a dichotomy of beautiful innocence against the darkness of a shared survival of both an apocalyptic event and the life on the jellyfish with no family. Interestingly, there is no pining or breaking down, not even memories of parents or siblings or wider relatives.

This in itself is not necessarily a weakness of the writing, but perhaps indicative of the state of mind on the jelly, the brain numbing experience day in day out of survival both emotionally, physically and mentally erases those bonds. Or, indeed it’s been so long they’ve worked through the worst of their grief and suggests where emotional needs have perhaps been underserved and why the 4 teens have such a strong yet awkward bond together.

“I think I’d like crisps when we get off the jellyfish. Cheese and onion!…Crisps will be a priority for my new civilisation’

The teens longing isn’t for family, they are experiencing a world where these constructs are meaningless and accepted these things aren’t dependable in a new world and seen that many people are now dead thanks to the waters and monsters rising.

What they long for is escape from the jellyfish even if that means risking death and to find new shelter, maybe new clothes and hopefully crisps. In this way the jellyfish is like a metaphor for their own childhood state, they were safe but they were restricted, they were fed but they were not free, and being liberated of the jelly is radically both a terrifying and exhilarating thought much like growing up is.

Me, Kate and James had spent that time more sensibly, by cutting a hole into the Jellyfish’s surface and then stuffing it with spiky bits of rubbish. We’d had a wee in there too, in the hope we’d poison the creature.

There are sweet revealing moments of their youth from the futile attempts to vent their frustrations by weeing in the jellyfish to the puerile humour about bogeys, farts and diarrhoea to the simultaneous disgust, fascination and over-compensating jokes in embarrassment when two adults decide to get intimate within earshot of the Big House.

Clare Rees originally began to write Jelly as the result of a series of English lessons gone spectacularly wrong and creative writing put on the agenda to reset. This book was created with their input, their creative choices and opinions on how characters might react. I really love that about the book as they are full fledged characters with tangible hopes, fears dreams and struggles.

His face wasn’t exactly fabulous…But there’s something about James’ face which makes you want to keep watching it.

I’m not the hugest fan of Contemporary YA partially due to its insta-romance nonsense, but this isn’t your average YA book. The romance isn’t a ‘my first, my last, my everything’ type YA romance, it’s the sweetest slow burner in that painfully vulnerable ‘make a joke about it just in case’ in that self-deprecating teasing way that real teenagers do.

It was interesting to read that Clare Rees was hesitant to put romance in because most teenagers (despite what the telly might suggest) aren’t romantically involved. However, there is always the hope of romance and being worthy of being desired, adored even if you feel utterly ordinary and that consumes at times. Which is why the inflections and nuances that reveal gentle, vulnerable feelings is just beautiful. Well done to Miss Rees’ students for arguing it back in!!

“I swear if you don’t have time to do my hair too before that boat comes back for us, then I’m just not going. You’ll have to leave me here, on the jellyfish, wobbling and hairy, while you go off and eat crisps and honey and wear nice clothes on land. Or whatever”

A great job is made of all the characters but in particular I was grasped by the writing of James who feels very real. He isn’t an identikit perfect hunk dropped in for one reason only; he is immature in humour, stroppy and silly yet underneath is someone incredibly vulnerable, more dependent on the girls than they realise and who really wants to be loved (both romantically and platonically), to protect and be accepted by those he loves. This is a brilliantly realistic boy for readers to recognise and/or to resonate with as a one who whilst can have a moan and delight in the gross at the end of the day whilst gross in humour isn’t toxic in his masculinity.

It’s not like the jelly that was on your spoon. Not like the jelly from Before.

Clare Rees’ Jelly both delighted and surprised me, I was swept away with the imagination involved in the story, the complexities of living on the jelly and the Lost level desire to escape!

I would thoroughly recommend this book even to those who do not usually like Futuristic or Dystopian tales because this despite being both of those things at the end of the day this is a classic character piece with a claustrophobic setting but with added monster peril!

Jelly by Clare Rees is published by Chicken House

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