Discussion Questions for The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin:
In reviewing my summer reading, I realized there was one book that I should have come up with discussion questions about but did not. Today I will remedy that oversight.
- Suzy Swanson believes that you can become invisible by staying quiet. “Being seen is more about the ears than the eyes…” (pg. 7) Is this true?
- When Suzy’s mother explains that Franny has drowned, Suzy can’t believe it. Why not? Do you think that science can give Suzy the answers she is looking for?
- Would it make a difference if Franny’s death could be attributed to another cause?
- On page 27, Suzy thinks making a friend – at least with Franny – is the easiest thing in the world. Is keeping a friend easy?
- Does Suzy deserve happiness? What does she mean by “the kind of life people get to have when their words don’t ruin everything” (pg. 36)?
- Do things “just happen” as Suzy’s mom claims?
- What is a conversation (as opposed to constant-talking)?
- When Suzy sees the “doctor she can talk to,” the doctor mentions that professionals can help a person see patterns – some good, some to change. Suzy’s connection is to realize that she does need a pro, but why one who can teach her about jellyfish?
- True or False: “Grown-ups… don’t actually want you to say what you’re thinking.” (pg. 66)
- Is non-talking the same as small talk?
- What do you think of Suzy’s lab partner, Justin Maloney? Would she have been better off choosing rather than waiting for it to “just happen”?
- Why do you think it is so difficult for Suzy to share the information about her family with Franny?
- What do you feel about the jellyfish experts that Suzy has found? What are the differences between Jamie (Dr. Jamie Seymour) and Angel Yanagihara?
- Dr. Legs explains to Suzy that we speak in order to meet our fundamental need to be understood. Suzy claims that “Finding the right words has never been a strength of mine” (pg. 123). Do you think this is what changed/destroyed her friendship with Franny?
- Jellies mate with no touching involved. “There is no touching or drama or passion or pain” (pg. 170). Is this what Suzy really wants in her life? No emotions of any kind?
- Suzy barely speaks in science class, but when she finally has to give her report, she refuses to stop talking. Why do you think this is? Afterward, she still feels misunderstood. Why?
- Do you think science is scary? Why or why not?
- Suzy found silence to be “unbearable.” Why does she choose to be silent herself? Who is she hurting?
- Now that the jellyfish report is done, why does Suzy still feel she must go to Australia to meet Jamie?
- When Sarah is asked to join Mrs. Turton’s little group, Suzy is glad when she does not because she doesn’t want people “cluttering up” her life just as she is about to leave it. Why does she feel this way?
- Suzy and Justin dissect the earthworm together. Has their relationship changed?
- Suzy’s final call before leaving for Australia is to Franny’s mother. Why her? Franny’s mother claims that Franny always admired Suzy because Suzy didn’t care what anyone thought of her. Is this true?
- Suzy’s plans to go to Australia go awry. Does it matter?
- We learn (along with Suzy) that one type of jellyfish can actually grow younger. Would it be a good thing if humans could do this? Would anything be possible?
- What do you think of Suzy’s decision to go to the Heroes and Villains Dance? Why does she call her dad now? And what about her thoughts on Justin and Sarah?
Well, that’s one set of questions. But as I was reading, I realized there is another way to approach this book using Mrs. Turton’s scientific method.
What is Suzy’s purpose in researching jellyfish? Do you think that by understanding science she can also understand life?
What are the real questions that underlie Suzy’s research?
What is the background between Suzy and Franny?
Discuss some of the variables that affect Suzy’s research.
- What caused the change in Suzy and Franny’s relationship?
- Why does Suzy choose this particular method to grieve?
- Do you think that the idea of researching jellyfish may somehow provide Suzy understanding?
Describe Suzy’s project. She’s researching jellyfish because she thinks Franny may have died from a jellyfish sting. But can she really prove this and does it matter?
What were the results of Suzy’s jellyfish report?
What are the results of her actions between other characters (Mrs. Turton, her parents, other students, Justin)?
What does Suzy learn? How will this knowledge help her to move forward?
Don’t forget to check out our review of The Thing About Jellyfish!