Title: Jellicoe Road (On the Jellicoe Road is the Australian title)
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: Young Adult
What is it about? Jellicoe Road is two stories–one past, one present–woven beautifully into one. The present story centers around a 17-year-old girl named Taylor whose mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. She attends the Jellicoe School (sort of like a boarding school) and has been chosen as her school leader in her last year. As leader, she is in charge of leading her school in the territory wars with the Townies (students who attend the local high school) and the Cadets (military school students who spend the season in Jellicoe for outdoor training). In navigating the territory wars, Taylor is forced to deal with issues and people from her past, as well as the sudden departure of her only adult friend/mentor, Hannah (a sort of counselor at the Jellicoe School). This story is woven between snapshots of a past story line. The latter story focuses on a group of kids who attended the Jellicoe School about 20 years ago. At first the bursts from the past seem interesting, but disconnected from the main story. Yet, over time, the two stories connect and become one.
What did I like? This is my second Melina Marchetta read, and having loved Saving Francesca, I went into Jellicoe Road with high expectations. It most definitely did not disappoint. When I first read the Cadet/Townie/Jellicoe School territory-war synopsis, I was skeptical about the premise of this book. As silly as it may sound, this rivalry was a great backdrop for developing friendships and for characters exploring themselves.
Taylor’s journey in the book is especially compelling, as is that of her male-counterpart Jonah Griggs. Unlike many young adult novels with undeservedly-tortured protagonists, I found that Taylor and Jonah had, not only difficult and unique life stories, but believable ones. In this case, I felt I was reading about teenagers who have, in many ways, experienced much more heartache than I have or ever will. This made their actions and emotions seem valid and real. As a narrator, Taylor was emotional and connected to the audience without being too whiny or indulgent. The ease of development in the two main characters–as well as of those making up the supporting characters–made this a smooth novel to read.
This book was also extremely emotional, dealing with themes of love, abandonment, developing self-esteem, searching for identity, and searching for a home. The themes are dealt with in both stories, helping the overlap between past and present seem even more seamless. In connecting the two stories, the book isn’t super mysterious. However, though I figured out most of the connections before they were revealed in the plot, I found the characters themselves more than compelling enough for me to continue.
What didn’t I like? I thought the book was a little slow to begin, but this is a frequent and forgivable problem. It does take (or took me at least) around 75 pages to really be hooked, but after that point, I found I couldn’t put the book down. Also, as is par for the course with most young adult novels, there is a predictable romance in this book. I found the romance between Taylor and Jonah to be a little cheesy at times, and it definitely did illicit a few eye rolls from me. Still, the romance is not the focal point of the novel, so I found that fairly easy to look past.
Who should read it? I think this is a great book for teens and adults alike. Obviously, if you are a Melina fan, I would recommend this book (if you haven’t already read it). I would also recommend this to fans of John Green. I don’t enjoy Marchetta’s writing as much as I enjoy Green’s, but I think they have a similar approach to the young adult genre. Both write about real-life, heavy problems from a teen perspective in a way that the confused and daunted part in all of us can relate to. I would also suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of YA literature and is looking for a reprieve from YA fantasy/distopia. This is a well-written, interesting, and touching voyage into realistic young adult fiction.
Final Rating: Though I didn’t love every moment about this book, I found the two-plot construction to be extremely engaging and it kept me guessing through most of this emotional novel. 8/10