The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
When Suzy’s best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy’s mother says sometimes things just happen. The loss and senselessness of it leave Suzy unmoored. Then she learns about a rare, deadly jellyfish that may have been spotted in waters near where her friend swam. If Suzy can prove why her friend died, maybe the awful ache inside her will go away. Maybe she’ll be able to explain it to everyone. Her effort to prove her case will lead her halfway around the world. But her tenacity and wit will bring her friendship much closer to home.
This is one of those books I couldn’t help loving. Suzy seems like she may be on the autistic spectrum, but that never really enters into the narrative. It’s clear that among her peers she’s a bit of an odd duck, and she longs to fit in, despite her frequent inability to say the “right thing.” Her family members added a great deal to the story without intruding on Suzy’s space. Each character felt real, complex, as if they were the type of family one might encounter anywhere in America.
The one moment that rang false to me was when Suzy plans to use her father’s credit card and times her transaction to be a few days before he receives his credit card statement. I wasn’t sure that I really believed a kid her age would think of that. It was a small moment, though.
Benjamin brings to the story this keen sense of the grief process, and the sense of helplessness that bystanders often feel when someone they love is deeply grieved. With its message of hope and the amazing facts about the humble jellyfish, The Thing About Jellyfish would make an excellent classroom aid or recommended reading assignment for sixth or seventh grade.
Recommended especially for readers who enjoyed Rain Reign by Ann Martin or Nest by Esther Ehrlich.
Suzy watches her brother Aaron and his boyfriend exchange a kiss.
Girls pick on each other. It’s not violence, but it is hurtful bullying. One girl spits on another’s face. A girl soaks another girl’s locker items with pee.