Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jellicoe Road: Yeah, It's That Good

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


There is a road in the Australian wilderness. Prettiest road you ever saw. Trees drape over its path, forming what's surely a tunnel to Shangri-la. Ordinary things happen here - travelers coast along, headed for the ocean; cars break down; children guide their bikes through the paths on its shoulders; and would-be cadets spill out of a school bus, anxious to play war games in the bush. Sometimes, though, the not-so-ordinary happens near the road: troubled children battle each other in a fierce territory war; unlikely friendships form; a lost girl finds a home; an alleged murderer looks for peace. It might look like any other country lane, but Jellicoe Road holds secrets. And pain. And, maybe, redemption.

Winner of the Printz Award for 2009, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta tells the story of 17-year-old Taylor Markham, one of the misfit students at the Jellicoe School. Considering some of the juvenile delinquents she goes to school with every day, Taylor's story may not be all that remarkable. Still, being abandoned at a 7-11 at the age of 6 is nothing to scoff at. Neither is watching a man commit suicide in front of you. It's no wonder, really, that Taylor ran away from boarding school at age 14. She would have made it all the way to Sydney, too, if it wasn't for a certain cadet-in-training. Through every bump in her particular pathway, Taylor's found only one person she can trust - her 30-something-year-old guardian, Hannah. As loyal as the older woman is, though, even Hannah keeps a little distance from Taylor. Maybe she's afraid of the teenager's anger. Maybe it's her own mysterious sadness. Whatever the reason, Taylor's glad to be boarding in Lachlan House instead of bunking in Hannah's unfinished house by the river.

As much as Taylor's tried to keep herself apart from everyone else, this year she's been elected as House leader. The position mostly involves mothering the younger students, something Taylor wants no part of. It's only the annual territory wars that interest her. The ongoing feud between Jellicoe students, the Townies, and the Cadets who practice maneuvers nearby requires careful navigation, skillful negotiation, and the kind of toughness that Taylor has in spades. This year's war is especially heated as the Cadet's leader is none other than Jonah Griggs, the same young soldier that ratted on runaway Taylor. The Jellicoe kids have a score to settle with their opponents - and this time, it's personal.

Overwhelmed by her new responsibilities - and the disarming Jonah - Taylor heads to Hannah's house for solace. Only to find her guardian gone. With a serial killer hunting the area, some people fear the worst. Taylor's more angry than worried - adults, it seems, are always abandoning her - until an intruder tries to abscond with the pages of a manuscript Hannah's been working on for years. The story's always intrigued Taylor, but why would anyone else want it? Could it be more than just a novel? Do the pages hold clues to not only Hannah's current whereabouts, but to the despair that always seems to hover over her like a rain cloud?

As the past and present collide, Taylor grapples with secrets, half-remembered dreams, and startling revelations. Unraveling the mysteries of Jellicoe Road means discovering truths Taylor's always wanted to know - things about Hannah, about Jonah, and most of all, about herself.

It's hard to do justice to the brilliance of Jellicoe Road in a four paragraph summary. The story's so heavily nuanced that the plot points become almost irrelevant. It's the characters who really drive the story. It's impossible not to care about the tough, but hurting, Taylor and her funny, oddball friends. The mystery of her past is not all that mysterious - I had it figured out long before she did. As much as predictability usually bugs me, it didn't in this book. Maybe it's because it all felt pre-destined, utterly inevitable, or maybe it's because there are so many other things to love about this book. Whatever the reason, Jellicoe Road charmed me, moved me, and propelled me to stick every novel Marchetta has written on my reserve list at the library. Yeah, it's that good.

(Readlikes: I really can't think of any. Can you?)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Jellicoe Road from the generous folks at HarperTeen. Thank you!

7 comments:

  1. I want to read this! Sounds awesome, I'll grab it after I finish Love in the Time of Cholera, which is taking me forever!

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  2. I've been wanting to read this for a long time! Darn all those other books getting in my way!

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  3. Ok I'm going with you suggestion and put it on hold at the library.

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  4. Yay! I'm glad you're all going to read JELLICOE ROAD. It's a tad bit confusing at first since it alternates between the present and pages from Hannah's manuscript and because it's written by an Australian author, but stick with it. It's worth it!

    P.S. - Tara, you're welcome to borrow my copy. Come and grab it any time :)

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  5. She really is an excellent author, makes me proud to be Australian :) I'm glad you plan to pick up a few more of her novels.
    PS Thanks for dropping by blog!

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  6. So I read it and did not like it. Way too confusing. When I got past 50 pages I started skipping and scanning pages. Got the gist of it. Not for me though

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