Suzy and Franny are growing apart as Franny starts hanging out with the popular crowd and caring more about cute boys. Suzy, the more bookish of the two, decides to retaliate against Franny’s cruel actions. Unfortunately, Suzy is never able to explain her disgusting actions and finds herself not only grief stricken but also feeling sickeningly guilty because Franny drowns while on vacation. Suzy refuses to talk to anyone: her parents, brother, therapist, and lab partner. Written with science report-like overtones, Suzy becomes obsessed with finding out the cause of Franny’s death and ultimately decides that a deadly Australian jellyfish has stung and killed her friend. Determined to prove this theory to herself as well as everyone else, Suzy seeks out the advice of experts, one in particular named Jamie.
The Thing About Jellyfish is a National Book Award finalist. With themes of grief, growing up, and mental illness, fourth to seventh graders can relate to the hardships and awkwardness of growing older. Benjamin poignantly adds multicultural dynamics as Suzy’s parents are divorced and share custody, her brother has a boyfriend, and Suzy sees a therapist for her silence. All of these topics are woven together to be present non-issues without stereotyping or stigmatizing relationships.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown and Company, 2015)