Science and Stuff: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

img_0071-1This book packs a powerful emotional punch. Suzy (aka Zu) is starting seventh grade, but aside from the usual middle school miseries, Suzy is also dealing with the sudden death of her childhood best (and only) friend Franny. Suzy and Franny’s friendship ended very badly the year before, and Suzy had had plans to try to repair the damage in seventh grade. With this opportunity lost, Suzy is shocked, saddened, and utterly lost. She becomes nearly mute, choosing to “not-talk” rather than “constant-talk” since talking doesn’t mean anything, especially since talking couldn’t help her and Franny.

During a class field trip, Suzy learns about the Irukandji jellyfish, an almost invisible and nearly-always-fatal jelly. Suzy, desperate for a logical answer to the loss of her friend, decides to prove that an Irukandji jelly is the reason why her friend died.

Benjamin writes Suzy’s voice so clearly that it feels as though we are right alongside Suzy in her thoughts. A young scientist herself, Suzy’s research process and grief process are remarkably the same; even the book is laid out like a lab report with introductions, hypotheses, method, and results. Readers will also learn about jellyfish alongside Suzy as she mulls over the facts and figures that she learns. It’s a fascinating read, and the drama of her search for answers pulls readers in even further. A gripping read, I would recommend this to any young reader.

This would make a powerful book club book, or it could be used in a science class to think about ways that “experiments” can be created and used. While Suzy’s research into the Irukandji is not solely for her coursework, it is interesting to think about how her search for answers about Franny is its own experiment in growing up and accepting reality. This could also be a book for a kid who is feeling the pain of grief; Suzy is a very realistic narrator, and she does not sound like an author condescending to a child’s grief.


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