The Thing About Jellyfish

By Ali Benjamin (Macmillan Children’s Books)

“Not everything makes sense, Zu. Sometimes things just happen,” says Suzy’s (Zu’s) mom when her best friend Franny dies from drowning.  Heartbroken and confused, 12 year old Suzy refuses to accept this and begins a journey to find out what could have caused her to drown.  The Thing about Jellyfish is a beautiful story of friendship, grief, forgiveness and acceptance. 

Suzy and Franny grow up as BFF’s but when they hit middle school Franny drifts to the cool ‘in crowd’, leaving Suzy, a curly haired, highly intelligent and socially awkward misfit alone and left out.  The harder she tries to reconnect with Franny, the more she pulls away until their friendship is just a sad memory.  Just before the summer holiday, Suzy makes one last desperate and very odd move to get her back again.  Except she never gets to find out if it would have worked because Franny drowns on her summer holiday.  This part is truly hard to read and really makes the young reader accept the reality that there just are some things we can never go back and change. We have to learn to accept them and forgive them, in ourselves and others.

Suzy retreats into her own world, refusing to speak and sitting in her sadness watching the world go on about her. Her divorced parents take her to a psychologist who tells her “Everyone grieves in different ways, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” but she still believes she is locked in her own pain and no-one could possibly understand.   “During the first three weeks of seventh Grade, I’d learnt one thing above all else: A person can become invisible simply by staying quiet.’

Suzy decides that since Franny was a strong swimmer the only way she could have drowned was if a jellyfish stung her.  She becomes obsessed with jellyfish, reading up on the different kinds, immersing herself in facts and holding on to her research as a kind of lifejacket to buoy her up in the midst of her unbearable grief and guilt.  

Finding a jellyfish expert in Australia, she decides she must travel to him and find out more about the deadly Irukandji, a jellyfish so small and transparent you can’t even see it.  As her grief and isolation grow, she becomes deluded with her plans, shutting out everyone around her as she desperately tries to hold her sadness at bay. 

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH is a beautiful portrait of friendship and grief, of the cruelty of youth and the resiliency of the human heart. The jellyfish facts are woven throughout the story and although at times they do distract for less scientifically minded readers, they are fascinating! Young readers will relate to the growing pains of childhood friendships and the discovery of personal strength and acceptance. Ali Benjamin has won a slew of awards for this book and we’re looking forward to watching the movie adaption soon.

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