Ali Benjamin’s debut novel The Thing About Jellyfish became an instant classic—a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award finalists, and the kind of story that kids who love to feel things gravitate to over and over again. Its emotional, sad-but-hopeful story is one that young readers will devour and want more of, if only for a chance to experience so many emotions through another character’s poignant journey. Undoubtedly, those kids have already pre-ordered The Next Great Paulie Fink, Benjamin’s sophomore novel about a new kid struggling to fit in at school, out in April.
But what should fans of her work read next?
Here are seven books perfect for those looking for more books like The Thing About Jellyfish.
Forever, Or A Long, Long Time, by Caela Carter
I love sibling stories and stories about kids trying to find home, which means Forever, Or A Long, Long Time has been on my radar forever—or, at least, a long, long time. (See what I did there?) Flora and Julian struggle to believe they’ll ever have a home, given how many foster homes they’ve bounced around between. Adopting doesn’t even squash the feeling that they don’t quite belong—that this home will, in fact, be forever—especially when they find out that their “new” mother Emily is pregnant with a child of her own. As the tension in the house grows, Emily decides to take the brother-and-sister on a journey to their past homes in the hope of finding comfort in their forever one. This is a story both about family and about learning to trust the people around you.
You Go First, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Middle grade friendships can be hard to navigate: funny, poignant, exciting, devastating. Newbery Medal winner Erin Entrada Kelly tackles them exquisitely in You Go First. Charlotte and Ben live over a thousand miles apart—Charlotte in Pennsylvania, Ben in Louisiana—but that distance means nothing when they meet over an online Scrabble game. As they both struggle to fit in at school and navigate family troubles, their friendship grows as they realize, perhaps, they’re not as alone as they first thought.
The Science of Breakable Things, by Tae Keller
A difficult moment in any kid’s life is the moment they realize their parent is also a person, with their own hopes and dreams—and their own major flaws. Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakfable Things hits this square on the head as science-loving Natalie struggles to deal with her mother’s depression. At the encouragement of her teacher, Natalie joins an egg drop competition, hoping to use the prize money to fly her botanist mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids—after all, the magic of the flower can bring her mother back to herself again, right? Natalie’s attempts to find the balance of keeping her life private, helping her mother, and confiding with her friends is vibrantly crafted and utterly important.
The Line Tender, by Kate Allen
In The Thing About Jellyfish, Suzy’s best friend dies in a drowning accident, one she assumes is because of jellyfish stings; in The Line Tender, Lucy’s mom dies collecting shark data off the coast of Massachusetts—and then another friend dies when a great white swims too close to shore. With grief hitting in waves, Lucy grabs a motley crew of adults—including her depressed father and a strange old widower—to finish her mother’s research on the return of the sharks to the area. If she can figure out why they’ve returned, she can stop another tragedy and save the sharks her mother loved. The most literal spiritual successor to The Thing About Jellyfish, The Line Tender releases this April.
Song For A Whale, by Lynne Kelly
You want emotional middle grade novels about aquatic creatures? You got ‘em. If The Thing About Jellyfish and The Line Tender weren’t enough, we’ve got Song For A Whale, from sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly. Iris is a genius—but nobody ever treats her that way, because she’s the only Deaf person in her school. So she knows how Blue 55, a (real!) whale who cannot speak to other whales, must feel. Iris decides to use her tech skills to invent a way to “sing” to him so he feels less alone—but he’s three thousand miles away. Can she find a way to get to him—and would he even hear her song?
Caterpillar Summer, by Gillian McDunn
When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it’s hard to be a kid—and Cat’s world revolves around her brother Chicken. While their mother works to keep the family together after Cat’s father passes away, Cat knows just what Chicken needs: how to calm him down from his meltdowns, what his favorite story is, how to keep him happy. But when they’re dropped off with grandparents they didn’t know they had for three weeks, they’re happy to take care of Chicken—and Cat has the chance, for the first time in years, to be a kid again. Gillian McDunn explores seeing the world through another person’s point-of-view and learning to love the family you have in this brand new middle grade novel.
Extraordinary Birds, by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
Okay, it’s not jellyfish or sharks or whales, but if your kiddo is looking for a poignant novel with an animal angle, then why not try Extraordinary Birds by Sandy McGinnis? December knows everything about two things: birds and foster homes. Or, at least, how to get kicked out of them. Which means she knows that she’s a bird—after all, her birth mother left her a book on birds alongside a cryptic message about flight, and the scar on her back is just the perfect spot for where wings have started growing. But when she’s placed with Eleanor, the new animal-loving foster mom, December thinks she might have found what home really means—but that means giving up on her story. Is it possible to change the thing that kept you going for so long? Think of Extraordinary Birds as the hybrid of The Thing About Jellyfish and Forever, Or A Long, Long Time—which makes it an absolute must-read.
Have you read The Thing About Jellyfish?