Jill Tarter Joins Young Readers to Explore the Unknown (and Jellyfish)


Here’s the thing about jellyfish: They represent a world full of unknowns, a world where heartbeats persist in the face of tragedy and a world where a sense of curiosity is the best way to make discoveries.

The CLSC Young Readers selection for Week Four, Ali Benjamin’s fiction debut The Thing About Jellyfish, pairs the constant of scientific truth with the subjective experiences of tragedy and coming of age. At 4:15 p.m. July 20 in the Hultquist Center, astronomer Jill Tarter will discuss her own journey with the young readers.

Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said The Thing About Jellyfish wasn’t chosen solely to fit the week’s theme of “Our Search for Another Earth.” First and foremost, he and his colleagues search for a book that is of a high literary quality and respects its reader’s ability to handle deep topics. The Thing About Jellyfish struck Ewalt as “an important read,” and later revealed itself as complementary to the morning and afternoon lectures.

“Instead of science in a vacuum, it’s science and discovery and the search for answers running up against, in the case of the book, tragedy, but also long-standing tradition, belief and faith,” Ewalt said. “Initially when I read this book and thought about this fierce curiosity, I immediately thought of Jill Tarter and that she would be here this week.”

When Ewalt reached out to Tarter, who is the former director of the Center for SETI Research, she gave an enthusiastic “yes” to the program.

Ewalt said Tarter will be an interesting person to discuss the book; she’s had to stand up to those who doubted her and continue to do the incredibly difficult work necessary to pursue what she feels is important.

“[The book] is also about the personal journey one undergoes in search of answers … and having that inner strength and courage to keep going,” Ewalt said.

Across the entire literary journey provided by the young readers program is a common connection: discovering one’s true self, and persevering through adversity to overcome the challenges along the way.

The tragedy that the 12-year-old protagonist faces in The Thing About Jellyfish provides a device for readers to feel empathy, and get connected right away.

Ewalt said Benjamin’s book is a challenging read in the intensity of its themes. In a conversation he had with Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, they agreed this week’s selection is an important read for the age group.

“The conversation we’ll have is certainly for young readers of any age,” Ewalt said. “Both in terms of tragedy itself and the struggle for a young person to find answers and seek some kind of closure in a tragedy.”

Andrew Manzella

The author Andrew Manzella

Andrew Manzella is a reporter and feature writer from western New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State.