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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin

the thing about jellyfishThe Thing About Jellyfish immediately rocketed into my top 20 list of all middle grade fiction I have ever read.  Suzy’s voice is achingly genuine.  I think this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to feel as if she belongs somewhere, finds a new friend and then had the experience of seeing a friendship that once felt strong, eternal and invincible crumble away amid all kinds of hurt:

I see myself as you just did.  As someone who is out of place in this world….

and

I am sorry I wasn’t who you wanted me to be.

When Suzy’s one-time friend dies unexpectedly and their last interaction was one of misunderstanding and unkindness Suzy finds herself lost inside her own thoughts, worries and grief over so many things.  She speaks clearly what those of us who have experienced sudden and painful loss feel so deeply–whether child or adult:

Somehow, that fact–that sometimes things do just happen–seemed like it might be the scariest and saddest truth of all.

After MUCH reflection (and introspection) Suzy determines her friend’s death can be explained by jellyfish.  She just needs more information–someone or something who can provide her with research and answers.  She develops what she believes to be a well-thought-out plan to obtain a meeting with a jellyfish expert, thinking that a direct conversation with an expert will help her make sense of the entire episode.

Except this isn’t just an “episode” and sometimes things happen in life without clearly apparent causes or reasons.  Life is most definitely NOT fair and we all have a lot of trouble accepting that when it happens to us.  Ali Benjamin allows Suzy to speak for us.  When Suzy’s plan hits an unexpected snag her utter despair in that moment is painful because it is so honest.  For me, the truest moment came when, at her absolute lowest, feeling a failure for her inability to understand and process these difficult thoughts and emotions, Suzy is able to move simply into her mother’s arms.  When Suzy’s mother encircles her with love and an absence of judgment I was right there in that circle with them.

The Thing About Jellyfish is an easy read–I started and finished it in the same day.  If you have ever felt a problem was bigger than yourself or your understanding The Thing About Jellyfish is a perfect independent reading choice.  In a classroom or as a shared bedtime story it provides the perfect beginning of many discussions about judgment, friendship, growing up and how to cope with losses that loom so large in our lives.

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