Title: The Thing About Jellyfish
Author: Ali Benjamin
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Year of Publication: 2015
Genre: realistic fiction
Friendships either grow and evolve, or sometimes they completely fizzle. Suzy Swanson’s childhood friendship with Franny fizzled in sixth grade. In a desperate, misguided attempt to win Franny back, lack-of-social-skills-but-super-smart Suzy does something truly disgusting. Before the situation is rectified, Franny tragically drowns. As a result, Suzy retreats into a silent world. The protagonist has two primary struggles in this novel: she harbors guilt for the fact that her issues with Franny were never resolved, and, unwilling to accept that awful things sometimes happen, she becomes obsessed with finding a reason for Franny’s death.
There are several aspects of this novel that I appreciate.
The jellyfish tie in. Did you know that jellyfish have been around for at least 600 million years? Did you know they’ve survived five mass extinctions on our planet? How about the fact that jellyfish populations are exploding and depleting other creatures, like penguins, of their food supply? Ali Benjamin seamlessly weaves these facts and many more into Suzy’s story.
The way it is organized like a scientific experiment. The sections of the book are divided into the steps of a scientific experiment: purpose, hypothesis, background, variables, procedure, results, conclusion. This ties in nicely with the jellyfish information that is presented, and with Suzy’s grief process.
The fact that Suzy’s brother is gay, and it’s not a big deal. Aaron’s sexuality is never discussed, it’s just a part of the story. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I appreciate the fact that diverse family structures are becoming more commonplace in children’s literature.
It doesn’t have a neat and tidy ending. What real experience of guilt or grief does? Suzy grows and comes to a place of acceptance by the end of the book, but she definitely doesn’t go skipping off into the sunset. As a reader, I was left with some residual sadness.
The Thing About Jellyfish is a fantastic debut novel that is sure to inspire conversations about awkward social moments, grief, and friendship.