HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Thing About Jellyfish
Author: Ali Benjamin
Illustrators: Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, reprinted 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0316380867 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 9780316380867 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0316380843 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0316380843 Paperback
Related website(s): http://www.lb-kids.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 10 – 13, but I would say 16 and up
Rating: * 1 star
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Benjamin, Ali. The Thing About Jellyfish (published in 2015 by Little Brown and Company, a division of the Hatchette Book Group Inc., 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104). Twelve year old Suzy Swanson lives in South Grove, MA, with her mother, a real estate salesperson. Suzy’s parents are divorced, but she has regular contact with her father who lives nearby. Franny Jackson was her best friend all through school until the end of sixth grade. Earlier, when the two girls saw some snobby kids, Franny said that if she ever become like them Suzy was to remind her. So, when Franny forsook her friend and joined the snobs, Suzy did “the Worst Thing” to remind her, and they parted enemies. Now, as Suzy enters seventh grade at Eugene Field Memorial Middle School, Franny has died from a swimming accident while on vacation over the summer in Maryland. But not satisfied with her mom’s explanation that “sometimes things just happen,’ Suzy knows that Franny was an excellent swimmer, much better than herself, so while on a field trip to an aquarium, Suzy begins to think that maybe Franny’s death was the result of a sting by an Irukandji jellyfish.
Suzy finds out about a jellyfish specialist named Dr. Jamie Seymour at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and secretly makes plans to go there so that she can discuss her theory with him and ask his opinion. Does she make it to Australia? If so, will she find the answers that she is seeking? And just what was “the Worst Thing” that she did to Franny? When I read the blurb on the back of this book, I thought that it sounded interesting. Suzy Swanson “can’t understand how Franny Jackson’s lifetime could be cut so short—before Suzy could make up for the worst thing she’s ever done to her best friend. When Suzy formulates a bold plan to travel across the globe—alone—to learn the truth about how her friend died, she discovers that the answers she most needs could be right in her own backyard.” Books about the death of a friend can be helpful for children who are coping with that particular situation, though in my experience most modern ones tend to be somewhat morose and even a bit morbid because they approach the subject from a totally secular rather than a Biblical worldview. References to evolution, global warming, and other doomsday environmentalism occur. One scene includes a rather graphic description of killing a frog.
Whenever Suzy’s dad takes her out for their usual Saturday night dinner, he drinks Rolling Rock beer. At the end Suzy goes to a school dance. The language contains some euphemisms (heck, omigosh) and childish slang (poop, butt, pee, fart, and even piss). In fact, Suzy gives a somewhat detailed picture of her going to the bathroom as she gets the urine needed for “the Worst Thing.” Also, she steals money from both her mom and brother as well as her dad’s credit card number as she prepares for her trip. And then Suzy’s adult brother Aaron is involved in a homosexual relationship with his boyfriend Rocco, and Suzy mentions seeing through the windshield of Aaron’s jeep a quick kiss between them before they back out of the driveway and drive to the movies. This moves it from the category of a story that might have some benefit to propaganda for the “gay” agenda. This book was a National Book Award Finalist and won some eleven other honors. But, of course, the more children’s books portray homosexuality as normal, the more likely they are to win awards today. Some might point to the educational value of Suzy as a great role model for scientific inquiry as a field of study, as well as emotional values of friendship and grief. However with the themes of death and despair, I found it depressing without much uplifting or redeeming material and feel that it is not appropriate for teens because of its unnecessary objectionable content about the brother having a boyfriend.