The Thing About Jellyfish

Ali Benjamin

The Thing About Jellyfish
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The Thing About Jellyfish

Ali Benjamin

It’s peculiar how no-words can be better than words. How silence can say more than noise, or a person’s absence can occupy even more space than their presence did.

Suzy is 12 when her best friend, Franny, drowns one summer at the beach. It takes two days for the news to reach Suzy, and it’s not something that she can accept: Franny has always been a strong swimmer, from the day they met in swim class when they were just 5. How can someone all of a sudden, just no longer be there?

Suzy realizes that they must have got it wrong: Franny didn’t just drown - she was stung by a poisonous jellyfish. This makes a lot more sense to Suzy’s logical mind than a random drowning - cause: a jellyfish sting; effect: death.

Suzy’s journey to acceptance is quiet - she resolves to either say something important, or say nothing at all. But it’s also bursting with bittersweet humour, heart-breaking honesty, big ideas and small details.


Grief is a topic that is often explored in young adult fiction, where some of the most traumatic experiences can be examined in full detail. However, when it comes to tackling such an issue in middle-fiction novels it has to be done in a gentle way due to the age of the reader. The Thing About Jellyfish walks this line precisely.

When Suzy finds out that her best friend has drowned she is not only wracked with grief – and heartbroken that their last encounter was awful – but she is also in disbelief that such a good swimmer could die by drowning. When she visits the aquarium on a school excursion, Suzy encounters a jellyfish native to Australia but that may be migrating towards the north due to climate change. This highly deadly jellyfish gets Suzy thinking and, in turn, researching the possibility that her friend may have died from a jellyfish sting.

The Thing About Jellyfish shows the impact grief can have on a person, even young people. The disbelief, inability to accept and constant guilt for things passed are all explored in this beautifully written novel. Writing on such a topic for middle readers can be hard to get right, but Ali Benjamin has done it perfectly.

Ages 11 and up.

Katherine Dretzke is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn

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