Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Title:  Jellicoe Road
Author:  Melina Marchetta
Publisher:  HarperTEEN
Hardcover:  419 pages
Genre:  YA/contemporary
Summary from HarperTEEN:  

"What do you want from me?" he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all. 


In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

            
Overall rating: 9/10 flowers
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Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road is a heartrending coming-of-age story about seventeen-year-old Taylor Markham whose mother left her at a convenience store in a small town in rural Australia when she was eleven.  Since that time, Taylor has been living at a local boarding school under the care of a young woman named Hannah.  When Hannah disappears without leaving word of when (or if) she will be returning, Taylor feels abandoned yet again.  But the more she searches for answers regarding Hannah's sudden disappearance, the closer she gets to uncovering secrets that could either drown her in sorrow or help her find a place where she truly belongs.  Wrapped within this story of heartache, death, and loneliness, is an insightful tale about love, forgiveness, and redemption.  

What I Liked:
-     I loved the gradual way the past is revealed and the subtle way the relationships evolve in this book.  Jellicoe Road alternates between Taylor's first-person narrative and third-person excerpts from an unbound manuscript that Hannah has written.  The manuscript pages are out of order, so they are revealed in a non-chronological fashion.  And within her first-person narrative, Taylor doesn't generally share every detail about her relationships the moment a character is introduced.  So readers may know that she has an unpleasant history with someone, but the exact nature of that history is not fully explained.  Instead, new details about her past interactions come to light as the story unfolds.  
-     There is an understated realism to this book which makes everything about the story more gripping.  The funny moments are quietly funny rather than flashy zingers, the romantic scenes are endearingly genuine rather than practiced and polished, and the heartbreak is present in the characters' actions rather than clinically described on the page.
-     I loved Jonah Griggs!  When his character was first introduced I had no idea how attached I would get to that boy.  But by the time I finished the book, I seriously wanted to start back at the beginning just so that I could get to know Jonah all over again.  How lovely to be caught off guard by such an observant, thoughtful boy!  I don't want to reveal too much about what makes him so swoon-worthy because being surprised by his awesomeness is a huge part of the fun.
-     This book brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Keep tissues handy!
-     Every single character has depth and complexity.  It may take a little while to dig beneath the surface in a few cases, but that just makes it all the more satisfying to get to know each of them.
-     When I think about how dark and depressing this book could have been, knowing that it features (*slight spoilers*) a fatal car crash, a suicide, a serial killer, a drug addict, a prostitute, an abusive man, and a child pornographer, I am amazed that this book exudes so much hopefulness and such a strong affirmation about the value of love and family.  Better still, the hopeful tone feels honest and the love feels realistic.  It is obvious that love isn't always easy, it won't make a person perfect, and it might make you more vulnerable and your life more complicated.  But it is worth opening yourself up to it with an open heart, despite the messiness and the pain you may face along the way.
-     There are so many quotable moments in this book.  I am tempted to fill this review with quotes, but I am trying to resist that urge because stumbling across them in context is so much more meaningful.  So I won't share any of the most touching moments, but for the folks who have already read Jellicoe Road, how much did you enjoy these three moments:
1. "You okay with that decision, Dick?"  (I kind of wanted to kiss Jonah right then, but Taylor's response to the situation was perfect.)
2. Jonah's line about his mother's nightgown (Haha!)
3. "Not driving any more."  

Why people might find this book challenging (but should read it anyway):
-      Some readers may set this book aside after the first few chapters (as my husband did) because the story gets off to a scattered and somewhat complicated start.  Taylor is a sulky narrator, the logistics of the 'territory war' initially seem confusing, the romantic subplot does not appear until fairly far into the story, and the excerpts from Hannah's manuscript are revealed out of chronological order so they are not particularly easy to follow toward the beginning of the book.  I would encourage readers to push through that portion of the book knowing that it won't be long before the story picks up and becomes easier to follow and impossible to put down.
-     Jellicoe Road is set in Australia and a number of unfamiliar words and phrases are tossed into the mix.  A few examples include: gaol=jail, chewy=a piece of gum, and singlet=tank top.  Thankfully, most of the words are easy to decipher within the context of the story.
-     Readers might figure out some aspects of the mystery long before Taylor has figured them out and a couple of story elements may feel a bit too coincidental, but I think the characters are compelling enough to carry the story even with those minor grievances.  
-     This book doesn't exactly build toward one main climactic moment.  Instead, there are several ups and downs along the journey so the tension fluctuates a bit more than usual.  Some spots in the middle of the book almost feel like you are approaching a plot resolution until suddenly a dramatic clue is revealed and the story sets off in a new direction.  

Jellicoe Road is the type of book that you want to pick up and read again immediately after finishing it because by the end of the book you have a whole new understanding of and appreciation for all the characters (even the ones you may not have liked the first time through).  Readers who enjoy emotionally gripping contemporary YA, such as John Green's Looking for Alaska and Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall should definitely pick up Jellicoe Road.  I look forward to reading more of Melina Marchetta's books, like Saving Francesca, Looking for AlibrandiFinnikin of the Rock, and her upcoming novel The Piper's Son.  If you would like to learn more about Jellicoe Road, which won the prestigious Printz Award last year, please visit Melina Marchetta's website.

Read the first eighty-eight pages of Jellicoe Road for free at HarperTEEN!  :)


10 comments:

Chachic said...

Yay Violet, I'm so glad you also liked this because it's one of my favorites. I agree on all the points that you raised. The start of the book is really hard to get into because there are so many unfamiliar terms and the style of writing is confusing. However, everything pays off when you finish reading it. This is such a beautiful book. It really has a hopeful tone even though there are a lot of dark elements thrown in.

This book made me want to read Marchetta's other books. Saving Francesca is really good as well although different from Jellicoe. I can't wait for The Piper's Son because it is sort of a sequel to Saving Francesca. Looking for Alibrandi is enjoyable but not as great as Saving Francesca or Jellicoe. Finnikin isn't available here. :(

Violet said...

I ended up liking this book so much more than I expected to from the summary and the first few chapters. One thing I somehow failed to mention in my review was how much I loved Raffy and Santangelo (and even Ben & Jessa). I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Taylor by seeing the way she very slowly allowed each of them a little deeper into her very small circle of trust and affection. This story really had such a beautiful payoff in the end, and now I don't think I can recommend it enough.

There are so many books that start off with a bang and fizzle toward the end, and I feel like this book is close to the exact opposite. It almost reminded me of movies like Memento or The Sixth Sense, that you want to watch all over again once the mysteries have all been revealed and you can see the whole picture as it really was from the very beginning.

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed Marchetta's other books. I will definitely add Saving Francesca to my wishlist. :)

cynthial11 said...

I've heard so many great things about this book I really need to pick it up. Thanks for the awesome review!

chrissie_goldsmith said...

Hi Violet, thanks for taking part in Radiant Reviews :)
I hadn't heard of this book before reading your review but it sounds like a great read! I really enjoyed reading your review :)

www.chrissiescorner.co.uk

Julie said...

Wait a minute, so cool as I just saw this book sitting on the shelf at the library and now, wow, I can't believe I left it sitting there! Can you believe it, sitting right there - on the shelf? I just wasn't sure until now - Oh, after reading your fantastic review I'll have to go back to the library and get it. :) Great insights!

Joy Tamsin David said...

Wow, that book has a beautiful cover! I'm a fan of a good cover. :)

Violet said...

Chrissie- Thanks for hosting Radiant Reviews & for stopping by to read mine. :)

Julie - So cool that it will be awaiting you at the library! I hope you will enjoy it! :) Thanks for stopping by.

Joy - I am a sucker for a lovely cover too & this one really is pretty. :)

Lale said...

The 'not driving anymore' part made me laugh so hard that I even showed it to my little sister, for whom it was slightly inappropriate. Had to share the love...

Loraine said...

I love your review! Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/09/jellicoe-road-by-melina-marchetta.html

Thanks and have a nice day! =D

Adeeva Afsheen said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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