The Thing About Jellyfish

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Thing About Jellyfish Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Beautiful, grief-tinged, coming-of-age story has it all.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of facts about jellyfish: specific species, life cycle, impact on ocean environment and humans; brief information on some prominent scientists who study them. How to structure a science research paper and what information the sections of the paper should contain. Much other random science trivia, such as how many times your heart will beat if you live to be 80.

Positive Messages

Make each other's lives easier in the time we have together, not harder. We can decide to change. When scary things make you feel small, you can be brave if you remember you're made from the same atoms in stars that existed at the beginning of time. You get very few chances to make things right, so you have to grab them and act on them when they come along. We learn a lot more from our failures than we do from our successes. A scary and sad truth is that sometimes, bad things just happen, and you can't know why. An adult older brother warns several times that middle school is very, very difficult.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Suzy Swanson, 12, is a great role model for scientific inquiry. She independently researches when she wants to know something and models careful and thorough note-taking. Socially, she's a bit awkward and comes across as odd to her fellow students, but she just has a lot on her mind and doesn't see much point in small talk. She makes mistakes in judgment, thinking it's OK to act on her own and that everything will be fine when she explains afterward. She goes from drifting (like a jellyfish) through her grief, without understanding her place in the world and being able to accept how things are. Her divorced parents are loving, caring, and supportive and model amicable, cooperative parenting. An adult older brother also is loving and supportive. Science teacher Mrs. Turton is the one we all wish we had: engaging, playfully curious, and serious about her subject matter, and while giving misfit kids a safe haven, she also gives them the personal space to be themselves.


Pain and injuries from jellyfish stings briefly described. Speculation about a friend's unexpected death. 


Suzy's adult brother is in a same-sex relationship, and he and his boyfriend occasionally visit Suzy and her mom. Suzy mentions a time she saw through the windshield a quick kiss between them before they backed out of the driveway and drove to the movies. A spot of blood is mentioned in the context of a first period.


"Butt," "pee."


A few food and clothing brands occasionally mentioned for mood or character, including Rolling Rock beer.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Dad drinks Rolling Rock beer a couple of times with meals. Cigarette smell mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Thing About Jellyfish is a coming-of-age story about seventh-grader Suzy Swanson, whose best friend has just died by drowning. Death and grief are explored in nongraphic, literary detail. Suzy's a great role model for scientific inquiry, and there's a lot of educational value on academic as well as emotional levels. The pain of jellyfish stings is briefly described, there's speculation about the friend's death, and a spot of blood is mentioned in the context of a first period. Suzy's adult gay brother has a boyfriend and she mentions seeing through the windshield a quick kiss between them before they backed out of the driveway and drove to the movies. Readers of all ages will have a lot to think about regarding grief, hope, science as a field of study, friendship, and much more, on many levels.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byNicWritesBooks July 7, 2018

A Few Things About 'The Thing About Jellyfish'

I'm disheartened to see other adult reviewers who think a quick peck-type kiss between a devoted adult couple and a spot of blood indicating a first period... Continue reading
Adult Written byCSM 5147166 September 13, 2019

Great book

I think the thing about jellyfish was a very good book .
My favorite thing about the book is that suzy thought about things instead of going head on into crazin... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old April 24, 2016


This book is just amazing. I would recommend it to tweens.
Teen, 14 years old Written byphonebadbookgood September 28, 2019

very good book

honestly one of my favorite books of all time

What's the story?

Just before the start of seventh grade, Suzy Swanson learns that her best friend has drowned. But her friend was an excellent swimmer, and Suzy can't accept the idea that it's just a random event. Worse still, the last time they saw each other, Suzy and Franny were in a big fight. Suzy feels terrible about the way things were left between them, and she needs to find out how and why Franny died so she won't feel like the villain of Franny's life anymore. As she starts to learn about jellyfish, she thinks it's possible Franny drowned after being stung by a particularly venomous kind. To prove her theory correct, Suzy learns everything she can about jellyfish, and as she retreats into herself and her grief she becomes obsessed with consulting a jellyfish expert who lives on the other side of the world. 

Is it any good?

Beautifully written, lovingly constructed, deeply touching, and thoroughly engaging, this gem of a debut from Ali Benjamin delivers tremendous emotional depth with remarkable grace and restraint. Suzy Swanson is an engaging, quirky, utterly believable, often lyrical narrator whose unique voice will appeal to independent readers of any age. Life and death; science and heart; and in-between just trying to get through seventh grade all are on display in THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, structured and voiced in a way that feels unique, authentic, and universal all at once.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about grief. What do you think of the way Suzy's friend's death changes her? Is it realistic?

  • Thinking and talking about death can be hard. How can reading about it help? Do you feel differently about it after reading this book?

  • What is the thing about jellyfish?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and grief stories

Themes & Topics

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