“Read, read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”–William Faulkner

It’s in that spirit that I bring you this blog’s very first #bookrec (though I promise, I won’t recommend a book if I think it’s “trash”). Book rec #1: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.


Suzy’s world is rocked when just before the start of seventh grade, she learns that her former best friend has died. “Former” is key. Suzy has always been somewhat of an outsider, with her frizzy hair, odd manners, and encyclopedic knowledge of scientific facts. But that’s been okay; Suzy’s had the acceptance and love of her friend, Franny. Theirs is the type of uncomplicated friendship which only exists in elementary school. But then middle school happens, and Suzy and Franny drift apart. Or rather, Franny drifts toward the popular girls, leaving Suzy unmoored and retreating into a world of confusion and wronged-ness. Suzy tries to send a message to Franny to make things right again. It fails in a BIG way. And then Franny drowns.

Suzy burrows further into her tortured thoughts when she hears of Franny’s death. How could Franny, always a strong swimmer, have drowned? Only one solution makes sense to Suzy: Franny must have been stung by a deadly jellyfish. Once the idea sticks in Suzy’s brain, she can’t let it go. And the more dedicated Suzy becomes to proving her theory, the further away she moves from the living world around her. If Suzy’s theory is true, the universe will have order–things don’t “just happen.” But on the other side of cause and effect, of right and wrong, is the world–wild, wondrous, and throbbing with possibility.

The Thing About Jellyfish tackles a lot. A LOT–the loss of first friendship, the stages of grief, the dangers of living too much in the mind, fascinating science. It is graceful and complex, like the very best books. I was reminded of Bridge to Terebitihia, and not just because that book also deals with the death of a child. Both books raise the tough, unanswerable questions of life with honesty and beauty. And just like BTT lingered with children decades ago, TTAJ will linger with today’s young readers for years to come. (It’ll linger with adults, too.) Read it.

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##bookrec#middle grade

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