The cover is stunning. The book is even more beautiful. The Thing About Jellyfish is Ali Benjamin’s debut Middle Grade novel about a young girl named Suzy who’s best friend Franny dies in a drowning accident. Scientifically minded Suzy believes that there is no way her friend could have drowned- she was such a good swimmer- and has a theory that her friend may have been stung by a venomous jellyfish. Suzy is filled with guilt over the last time she saw Franny and puts all of her energy into research to prove her theory of how Franny died. In this National Book Award finalist, Benjamin explores grief, fitting in, guilt, science (as there are many great jellyfish facts!) and the changes that come with growing up.
One of the most unique aspects is Benjamin’s ability to weave science into the every day life of a middle school girl. The book contains memories Suzy has of her time with Franny, especially from when they began to grow apart in the year prior to Franny’s death. It is also filled with facts about jellyfish, and somehow Benjamin is able to combine these perfectly in a way that will make any child or adult think deeply about relationships and growing up. Here’s an example:
“Having venom doesn’t make a creature bad. Venom is protection. The more fragile the animal, the more venom it needs. So the more venom a creature has, the more we should be able to forgive that animal. They’re the ones who need it most.”
Another thing Benjamin is a master at is getting us into Suzy’s head. Suzy’s voice is honest and thoughtful, and you will definitely need a box of tissues as you read. She questions everything and relies on her family and teacher for guidance. You or a pre-teen you know will not be able to help loving Suzy’s family as she does- her parents are divorced but loving and on good terms, her brother is gay but completely accepted by their family, and her teacher encourages her when she needs it most. They are some of the most honest and lovable characters I have encountered in a Middle Grade novel and readers of all ages and interests will enjoy visiting their world.
“There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.”
– Rebecca Bendheim