Monday, January 30, 2012

REVIEW: Jellicoe Road (or, I feel like I've cheated on Melina Marchetta)

Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta (website | twitter)
Released: 03.09.2010  (U.S.)
Publishers: HarperCollins, 492 pages (U.S.paperback)
Awards & Honors: Australian Book Industry Award Nominee for Book of the Year for Older Children (2007)Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2008)Printz Award (2009)Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2007)W.A. Young Readers Book Award (WAYRA) for Older Readers (2008), W.A. Young Readers Book Award (WAYRA) for Older Readers (2008), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2009)
Source: Giveaway I won through the Aussie YA Reading Challenge 2011

In this lyrical, absorbing, award-winning novel, nothing is as it seems, and every clue leads to more questions.

At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor's the reluctant leader of her school's underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can't avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future (from GoodReads).

REVIEW: Confession time: I have an Author Crush on Melina Marchetta.  Oh, it's amazing.  You ever feel like you know an author just by reading the books she writes?  That's me and Melina.  We could be sitting across from each other in a cafe, look up and see each other.  She'd wave, and I'd wave back, because you know, we know each other, the author and her reader.  And then she'd look at me like I was crazy, and then I'd realize that she was waving at the person behind me.  And I'd feel like an asshole.  

And I do.  Feel like an asshole that is.  Because me and Jellicoe Road?  We didn't work out. And now I feel like I've book cheated on Melina, the author who brought me true love with Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son.

How?  How did this happen?  This book is almost universally praised.  And here's the odd thing: it still made me bawl like a little baby.  This book haunted my thoughts after I closed the back cover.  I thought about it all night.  I was deeply emotionally invested in Taylor's welfare.  And I hated it, hated that, except for Jonah, Taylor didn't get a break once in the book.  I wanted to wring this book's neck like a chicken and stick it in the oven, but not to eat it.  I just wanted to make sure the book was really dead so it would stop pecking at my mind.  Because it's still haunting me. I've got a ghost book chicken standing behind me, and it keeps following.  Which is why I am writing this review.  I'd originally planned on rereading Jellicoe Road later in the year, thinking that a second go would be just the thing.  I think I still will, but I have to put this one to rest for the time being by writing it out.

The prologue?  Heartbreaking and beautiful.  It sold me, and convinced me to read the entire story in one sitting.  And then the confusion started.  The story is told primarily from Taylor's point-of-view, but mixed in at a steady pace are these italicized stories that don't seem to have anything to do with the present.  Since they didn't seem to have anything to do with Taylor, I found myself in a 'what-the-hell' state because of them.  When the connection was made, I was too far into the book to really care about the characters much except for backstory.  Which is a shame since the backstory is majorly connected to Taylor and who she is.  I would've never guessed it from the first half of the book, which centers on a territory war between Taylor's school, the townie kids, and the cadets from a military school who camp nearby for part of the year.  The territory war had a serious tone to it, like Richard Cormier's The Chocolate War.  It felt very dark and ominous to me, and it was over something that I would have loved had it been more 'capture-the-flag', but instead, it was a serious issue where people got hurt. Mixed in were Taylor's reoccurring dreams about a mysterious boy, and I was at loss as to where the plot was going.  All I knew was that Taylor was adrift in a large state of confusion and emotional turmoil, and the one adult she could depend on (her house leader, Hannah) had disappeared without a way to contact her.

While some of the humor that Machetta so masterfully can mix into realistic and difficult situations started appearing in the second half of the book, by that time I was. . . reading just to finish it, because I did want to find out where this was going and what would happed to Taylor.  She's a hell of a character - tough, anti-social, practical, and has aching well under her heart so well-covered that she doesn't even know it's there until Hannah splits.  And I really, truly loved her.  I realize that love-interest Jonah gets a lot of praise from readers, but the real hero here is Taylor.  No person should face everything she had thrown at her, and while, yes, this does happen, taking it all in one book is what kept me up after finishing it.  I would write you a list of all the horrifying things that she had to deal with, but it would be spoils galore.  By the time I got to one of the final things, I just threw up my hands and said, "Really!  Really?!"  It was punch, after punch, after punch.  And I know it's a bit bizarre to talk about characters like they're real people, but there could be a real Taylor.  I'm sure there is.  I just kept thinking about how she is going to have to deal with theses losses again and again throughout her life, and my heart just kept breaking for her more and more.  And that's why I was angry.  Because no matter how good she can get her life to be, it's never going to come close to the life she deserves.  

I vow to read this book again,  I keep feeling like there must be something I missed, some redemptive quality that would tell me that Taylor's future would bring the love and heartbreak of Hannah, her parents and their friends' full circle, that I could bet that her future would be better supported and nurtured than her past.  Based on past precedent, I couldn't, and more than anything else, that's the thing that's kept this book haunting me: doubt that Taylor will get some measure of happiness in her life.  


"It becomes one of those defining moments in your life, when your mother does that.  It's not as if I don't forgive her, because I do.  It's like those horror films where the hero gets attacked by the zombie and he has to convince the heroine to shoot him, because in ten seconds' time he won't be who he was anymore.  He'll have the same face but no soul.  I don't know who my mother was before the drugs and all the rest, but once in a while during our splintered time together I saw flashes of a passion beyond anything I'll ever experience." 
-page 20

"It's like she never really managed to grab hold of me with a firmness that spoke of never letting go."
-page 190


"'Don't listen to Santangelo.  Once he was convinced that a girl he was going out with looked eactly like Cameron Diaz and, I swear to God, my father looks more like Cameron Diaz.'"
-page 221


"I remember love.  It's what I have to keep on reminding myself.  It's funny how you can forget everything except people loving you.  Maybe that's why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs.  It's not the pain they're getting over, it's the love"
-pages 261-62


  1. I actually just finished this book the other day and your review is spot on. I was immediately confused by the italicized stories so I went online to see what they were all about. And I'm happy I did because it gave meaning to what was transpiring and allowed me to make the connections much earlier than I would have. Definitely re-read this book, I think you'll have a greater appreciation for it knowing what you do now.

  2. I should have done that. . . I feel like if I reread that I am going to have to emotionally prepare myself again! I don't know, though - I feel like that having to look up the book while you are reading it in order to understand must indicate a flaw of some sort.

    So odd how badly the book made me cry, though - perhaps the emotional attachment cancels out the flaw?

  3. Give it a shot - I am a dissenting voice, after all - and I LOVED SF and TPS!

  4. Even indeed! I would never dream of giving you a 'look' :) Did you ever pick up The Piper's Son?

  5. Never read that one, but oh! The movie!

  6. Yes I did, and I liked it better.
    Not sure why is that (I don't really remember what made it better than Francesca for me) and for some reason I didn't get to write a review (*face palm*), but I liked it a lot and now I wish with all my heart for Marchetta to write a book all about Jimmy (as he is not in The Piper's Son *sigh*)