The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Published by Little, Brown and Company in 2015
Middle school is hard, but it’s harder when you lost your best friend. Suzanne is starting 7th grade, and is hurting from the loss of her best friend Franny. In addition to dealing with her grief, she’s haunted by the memories of her 6th grade year when she and Franny started to drift apart.
These emotions push Suzanne to avoid talking. She’s realized how quickly you can become invisible when you are quiet. At her class trip to the aquarium, she breaks away from the group and becomes transfixed by the jellyfish. She starts researching them. She doesn’t want to believe that her friend drowned. Franny was a good swimmer. Maybe a jellyfish stung her and that led to her death. This leads Suzanne on a mission to find a jellyfish expert!
When they were little, Franny made Suzanne promise that to tell her if she changed. Sixth grade brought many changes to Franny. Inside jokes go by the wayside, Franny gets a new friend group, she becomes disinterested in Suzanne’s sciency facts. Suzanne has a large prank planned to reconnect Franny with her inner child, but it turns out this prank is one of the last time the two girls interact.
This story weaves Suzanne’s grief and her research on jellyfish into a beautiful story of moving forward in that face of tragedy. Middle school is a time of transition, and it is hard to embrace changes. This tale reminds the reader of a time when we were in tune with our inner child and were passionate and unafraid of social conventions. It reminds the reader of a time when anything was possible.
“A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating…a heart you can see right through, right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide.” (p. 1)
“All this time, I ‘d thought that our story was just that: OUR story. But it turns out you had your own story, and I had mine. Our stories might have overlapped for a while-long enough that they even looked like the same story. But they were different. And that made me realize this: Everyone’s story is different, all the time. No one is ever really together, even if it looks for a while they are.” (p. 18)
“Jellyfish are survivors. They are survivors of everything that ever happened to everyone else.” (p. 49)
“If people were silent, they could hear the noise of their own lives better. If people were silent, it would make what they did say, whenever they chose to say, whenever they chose to say it more important.” (p. 134)
“Somehow, that fact — that sometimes things do just happen — seemed like it might be the scariest and saddest truth of all.” (p. 302)
“Wat if we could return to the feeling we had when we were little, that sense that anything is possible?” (p. 311)