The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (2015)

51WLo5tAs3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This National Book Award finalist about a girl coping with grief is a thematically challenging read, but full of insight.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 352 (for ISBN 9780316380867)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, award winner

Tone/Style: factual, melancholy

Pace: leisurely

Topics: death of a friend, lost friendships, jellyfish, mysteries, making friends

Themes: grief, understanding tragedy using science, obsession with a particular idea

Summary: Suzy Swanson is pretty sure she knows the real reason Franny Jackson died. Everyone says that there’s no way to be certain…that sometimes things just happen. But Suzy knows there must be a better explanation—a scientific one. Haunted by the loss of her former best friend — and by a final, terrible moment that passed between them — she retreats into a silent world of her own imagination. Convinced that Franny’s death was the result of a freak jellyfish sting, she crafts a plan to prove the truth, even if it means traveling around the globe… alone. As she prepares, she learns astonishing things about the universe around her… and discovers the potential for love and hope in her own backyard. (Source)

Who will like this book?: This is deeply perceptive character study is literary fiction for middle graders.  Recommend it to mature and empathetic young readers.  It will be a good fit for kids who find comfort in science and factual information.. This may be a good choice for teachers, who can help students appreciate what Suzy is going through.

Who won’t like this book?: Some young readers will not “get” this book. Those who are not sensitive, aren’t deep thinkers, or haven’t experienced hardship may have a hard time relating to Suzy. Those who want action or external conflict should look elsewhere.

Other comments: This book starts off slow, but rewards patient readers in the second half.


What to read next: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is another story about a quirky girl dealing with grief. Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur also deals with grief, but with a more conventional protagonist. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin features a protagonist with deep feelings and obsessions, like Suzy.


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