The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin [in School Library Journal]
Suzy and Franny met in a pool back when “making a friend, and having one, seem[ed] like the easiest thing in the world.” But just before seventh grade, Franny – who could already swim underwater at age 5 – is dead by drowning.
Smart, logical, full-of-facts Suzy cannot accept her mother’s explanation that “[s]ometimes things just happen.” Instead, Suzy is determined to prove that “there was an actual villain in Franny’s story,” via rare Irukandji jellyfish, an Australian scientist, and long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.
Relatively newbie narrator Sarah Franco’s reading initially feels dampened, directly reflecting Suzy’s denial that her former best friend, at just 12, is gone forever. As Suzy methodically researches her hypothesis, her refusal to speak out loud correlates with the building emotional frenzy of her desperate secret plans – her determination, fears, and hopes all build in Franco’s voice. By book’s end, “love tears or sad tears or happy tears” become easily distinguishable in Franco’s sensitive narration, even as listeners will be pulling out a tissue themselves.
Readers: Middle Grade