Suzy Swanson's estranged best friend Franny, a strong swimmer, drowns in a calm ocean on a beautiful summer day. It makes no sense. "Sometimes things just happen," her mother tries to explain, but Suzy can't accept that.
After a field trip to an aquarium, Suzy learns about a tiny, rare jellyfish whose sting can be fatal. She clings to this idea and buries herself in research to make sense of, and distract herself from, her loss. Science is comprehensible. Jellyfish are comprehensible. The world, though - why we're here, why Franny died - is sometimes not.
In the course of her emotional and intellectual journey, Suzy concocts an impressively organized (and risky) mission to determine exactly why her friend died. It falls apart, and that's when she finds her answer. "Whatever it was, whatever the reason, it didn't really matter. It had 'just happened' ... the scariest and saddest truth of all."
The Thing About Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin's fiction debut and a New York Times bestseller, has racked up well-deserved accolades and awards. It's kind and aching and poignant, but not without humor. It's also a lovely ode to science. Though a central theme is Suzy's grief, the story touches on other middle grade themes as well, such as loneliness, mean girls, alienation and divorce.
Narrator Sarah Franco does a wonderful job of embodying Suzy's character. She has just the right lilt and tone to capture this smart young girl's curiosity, struggles and emotions.