The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is the poignant story of Suzy Swanson and her attempts to comprehend a world that doesn’t always seem to make sense. Suzy has always been a bit of a nerd and maybe a bit awkward, but she’s always been able to rely on her best friend, Franny Jackson. That is until middle school when Franny decides to drop Suzy as a friend and join a clique of popular girls. Suzy is dealing with the hurt of Franny’s betrayal and her parents’ divorce when she is given the devastating news that Franny has drowned while on vacation.
Suzy, who loves facts, logic and the tangible cannot begin to understand how Franny could have drowned. Franny was an excellent swimmer. The ocean was calm. She was barely 12 years old. The news totally overwhelms Suzy with feelings of grief, anger, guilt and despair. So much so that she stops talking and starts to withdraw from everything and everyone around her including her parents.
In an effort to explain and find sense in Franny’s drowning, Suzy turns to her teacher, Mrs. Turton. Mrs. Turton is a firm believer in science and the scientific method and that is the approach that Suzy decides to take to explain Franny’s death. While on a field trip to the aquarium, Suzy learns about the Irukandji jelly which is extremely venomous and has been responsible for the deaths of many swimmers. Suzy is convinced that the Irukandji jelly is the real reason Franny died and sets about to prove her hypothesis using the scientific method. For her, it is of vital importance that the cause of Franny’s death be discovered and made known.
This is a unique book which is beautifully written. As Suzy becomes an expert on jellyfish, so does the reader. In the end, Suzy’s ability to take action and search for answers helps her work through her grief, gives her a few answers, and helps her on her way to finding her own unique voice. I’d recommend this book to readers in 4th or 5th grade and up.