Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

If you’re ever in some game where you need to know stuff about me, a good piece of trivia is that I really, really, REALLY love jellyfish.

“A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating…It’s their pulse, the way they contract swiftly, then release.  Like a ghost heart – a heart you can see right through, right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide.

Jellyfish don’t even have hearts, of course – no heart, no brain, no bone, no blood. But watch them for a while. You will see them beating.”

My sister found The Thing About Jellyfish for me, and of course once I read the title, I had to check it from the library right away.

Zu, short for Suzy, short for Suzanne (she tried shortening it again to just Z, but that didn’t stick) is just like every other girl ever: she’s trying to navigate the rough waters of middle school.  Unlike most of us though, she does it without talking.  Zu has chosen not to talk as a way of dealing with her best friend’s death, despite her parents annoyance.  A trip to the aquarium inspires her to believe that maybe Franny’s death wasn’t an accident.  And as far-fetched as it seems, maybe the cause was a jellyfish sting.

*cue me groaning because no no no jellyfish are amazing creatures*

For some, this book might be a bit too far out. It seems a little scattered at times, pulling together depression, middle school drama, and an obsession with the Irukandji jellyfish.  Scientific facts about jellyfish coincide with Zu trying to get revenge on an exclusive clique, which is right next to a chapter on her therapy session.  Zu is a fascinating character.  She’s determined, but just weird enough. And her narration is filled with funny insights:

“What my dad wanted, I suspect, was the thing everybody seems to want: small talk.  But I don’t understand small talk.  I don’t even understand why it’s called that – small talk – when it fills up so much space.”

Super relatable.

While the mishmash story flows haltingly, all the random aspects appeal to me. I think the friendship between Zu and Franny worked especially well for a middle grade novel.

Now excuse me while I get into a little bit of the political-religious territory.  This is definitely marketed towards middle-schoolers. Also, it was published this year (2015).  A small part of the story includes Zu’s older brother, and his boyfriend.  It was a little unsettling to read about a gay relationship in such a nonchalant way in juvenile fiction.  It only comes up two or three times, and always just in passing.  But in some ways the fact that it was such a small, casual part of the story “normal-fies” it more than it being a main theme would have.  I guess this would be a good or bad thing depending on your worldview, but for me it was very surprising and reminded me that I am definitely living in 2015…

The Thing About Jellyfish was an interesting book [rabbit trail here: but towards the end…is it even really about jellyfish at all?! I’ve still not decided if there was good closure or not].  I enjoyed reading about jellyfish, psychology/depression, and friendship not always being neat and tidy, even if those topics didn’t mesh.

My opinion on it seems about as scattered as the story itself.  Sorry. (: It’s a National Book Award finalist, and the reviews are all positive on goodreads.  Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

Recommended to: jellyfish-lovers, people who aren’t above reading middle grade fiction


P. S. If you are one of the few who are obsessed with jellyfish, along with me and Ali Benjamin, check out Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha. It’s a picture book and it’s beautiful



Filed under books

4 responses to “Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

  1. Sounds really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mom

    So you could say the book was a lot like a jellyfish: random and mishmased and lacking direction? As John Piper would say, “don’t be a like a jellyfish! Be like a dolphin and live your life with purpose and direction!”

    Liked by 1 person

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