The Thing About Jellyfish
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Science-minded Suzy knows that everything happens for a reason, even her estranged best friend Franny’s untimely death by drowning. On a class trip to the aquarium Suzy convinces herself that Franny’s death wasn’t an accident. Her hypothesis (the book is divided into sections by the scientific method) is that it was caused by a sting from from a minuscule but deadly species of jellyfish. Upon learning about Franny’s drowning, Suzy goes practically mute, giving her a lot of time to figure out how to prove her hypothesis. She eventually decides that she needs to travel to Australia, in secret because her family would think she is “cray cray,” to talk to an expert on this species of jellyfish, causing her to steal her dad’s credit card information and cash from her mom and brother. Interspersed chapters are flashbacks written, somewhat awkwardly in the second-person present, by Suzy to Franny about their growing up together, growing apart as middle school approached, and finally an act – a grand gesture? revenge? – that Suzy never had the chance to own up to or apologize for, causing her immense guilt now that Franny is gone.
This past summer one of my best friends from college passed away suddenly, and it was one of the most emotionally difficult times of my life. I found myself relating in a lot of ways to Suzy’s reaction to Franny’s death – the initial disbelief, then imagining your friend’s last moments, searching for an explanation or meaning, and being nearly consumed with thoughts of this person you realize you totally took for granted. It’s powerful, heavy stuff and Ali Benjamin gave it the serious treatment it deserved, particularly when it is a pre-teen experiencing this level of loss.
The depictions of middle school in this book are so painfully accurate – being awkward, not knowing where you fit in, growing apart from your best friend, making a friend you don’t expect. However the grand-gesture/revenge flashback scene took on a level of ridiculousness that I just didn’t know what to do with. It was totally original, I’ll give Ali Benjamin that. I do, however, have some questions about the logistics described to pull off something so over the top and borderline psychopathic. I’m going to leave it at that.
The Thing About Jellyfish was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award. You can read the NBA interview with Ali Benjamin here.
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