Friday, January 14, 2011

If you read this whole review of JELLICOE ROAD, here's a cookie!

Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA Contemporary (that's set in AUSTRALIA!)
# of pages: 419
(pb US version)
Publisher (US): Harper Teen
Recommended for: HS & Up

For years, three factions—Townies, Cadets (city kids doing a six-week outdoor education program), and Jellicoe School students—have engaged in teen war games in the Australian countryside, defending territorial borders, negotiating for assets, and even taking hostages. Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old who was abandoned years ago by her mother, takes on leadership of the boarding school's six Houses. Plagued with doubts about being boss, she's not sure she can handle her Cadet counterpart, Jonah Griggs, whom she met several years before while running away to find her mother. When Hannah, a sort of house mother who has taken Taylor under her wing, disappears, Taylor puzzles over the book manuscript the woman left behind. Hannah's tale involves a tragic car accident on the Jellicoe Road more than 20 years earlier. Only three children survived, and Taylor discovers that this trio, plus a Cadet and a Townie, developed an epic friendship that was the foundation of the many mysteries in her life and identity, as well as of the war games. While the novel might put off casual readers, patient, thoughtful teens will remain to extract clues from the interwoven scraps of Hannah's narrative, just as Taylor does, all the while seeing the collapse of the barriers erected among the three groups over the years. Taken from School Library Journal
My thoughts
There's really not much I can say about this book that I didn't already say here.
When I began Jellicoe last week, I didn't have many expectations for it. I don't know if you guys have ever done this before, but I was just reading it to see what in the world all the fuss was about. Ever since I joined Goodreads I've seen reviews for Jellicoe Road, and I know that it won the Printz Award also. And wanna know a secret? I didn't expect to like it. Because I'd read (and ultimately gave up on) something by author Melina Marchetta before - Finnikin of the Rock - which was not a good reading experience. That book...just wasn't for me.
But see, I learned something. Sometimes it's okay have a "second chance" with an author. I wasn't expecting much with Jellicoe, and I ultimately ended up with a new favorite.
This book was just brilliant. The writing was superb, the way Marchetta crafted and executed her story (or should I say stories) was incredibly clever and unique, and the characters were so memorable, lovable, and genuine. Highest compliments from someone who's known to nitpick.
I've seen lots of reviews (majority of them overwhelmingly positive, though) that talk about how confusing this book is, and how lost they were for the first few hundred or whatever chapters.
I'd read so many reviews for Jellicoe before I started that I knew what to expect, but I do want make a couple points:

- Jellicoe Road is **not** a dystopian book. The "war" is not for real. It is one WICKEDLY AWESOME strategy game, and I can't for the life of me think of anything cooler than the 'war' the kids play against the Townies and Cadets. But no real war, no post-apocalyptic fiction here.
- There are two stories told simultaneously throughout the book. Taylor's story, set in the present day, in told in regular font, and the story that Taylor reads about is set almost 2 decades prior and is told in italicized font.
- Pay attention to the characters. I made little biographies of them on my bookmark. Seriously.
- The book is set in Australia, so a wee bit of knowledge about the Australian education system would be beneficial (at the beginning, I just had a tab from the Wikipedia article up). Taylor talks about Year 11 and Year 12, which is equivalent to our upper high school.
...and that just about covers it

Sure, I want to be entertained when I read, but the best books - the ones that truly stand out about the rest - are the ones that move me, the powerful ones, the deep ones, the memorable ones. I don't really know what "IT" is exactly, but Jellicoe Road has IT. Incredibly substantial and powerful book.
And what's interesting is that despite its heavy subject matter (there are some pretty mature topics that are dealt with here), Jellicoe never strayed into melodrama-land. Marchetta's book is emotionally captivating, but it's not exhausting and it's not emotionally manipulative, either. There's just enough humor, hope, friendship, and love mixed in to counterbalance the drama and tragedy. All of the characters have some hurt, habit, or hangup that they deal with over the course of the story, and this is definitely no exception for the two main characters: narrator Taylor Markham and (my favorite) Jonah Griggs.
I knew I'd like Taylor from the moment, on pg 8, when she said that Oliver Twist was a pathetic character. She was like that perfect compound that chemists spend years in the lab trying to concoct: she was strong, but also vulnerable; sweet on the inside, yet unsure how to express affection; scared of the future and life's uncertainties, but brave enough to take responsibility and leadership for her world. Perfect. And without saying too much, I think that Jonah Griggs is the **perfect** love interest that I just knew existed somewhere, but hadn't quite found yet.
I don't mean he's 'perfect' like he's without flaws or has no personality, I mean his character fits Taylor's perfectly. He's exactly what she needs, and vice versa. This was indeed a very strong pairing. I am a LEGIT fan.
I know that this review is already really long, and if you've read everything so far, have a cookie on me!
Two more things I want to address quickly:
- Portrayal of Friendship: I'd argue that the theme of friendship is a major one in Jellicoe Road, and the relationships Taylor forges with her peers is both real and inspiring. It was so moving to watch a troubled, unsure young girl transform into a caring, empathetic leader. Beautiful!
And Taylor's friends - particularly Ben - are so lovable and memorable, they definitely helped make the book what it is. I also loved and appreciated that these were healthy, substantial relationships, which brings me to my final point:
- Portrayal of teenagers. I love YA and won't ever read any other genre as faithfully, but to be honest, quite a few books out there make me embarrassed for teenagers today, just based on the stereotypical ways they're portrayed. For a bunch of kids living in a pretty isolated community, with not a lot of useful teachers or adults around, these kids were pretty dadgum responsible. Like, incredibly so. And I'm not talking about one or two - I mean the whole ensemble cast. This may be a point of irrelevance to a lot of readers, but I wanted to point out how grateful and amused I was to read about such entertaining but mature teens. Maybe one of the (many) reasons why I loved this book is because I respected these characters, what they had to go through and how they handled themselves in the process. And my guess is that you will too.

Quick say: I've found a new classic and a new favorite. Please (older teens) give Jellicoe Road a try. It's not that long, and it's an experience you won't forget.

A word to parents & teen readers: While I absolutely love Jellicoe and wholeheartedly recommend it to the upper teen crowd, be advised that there is infrequent but strong language and very brief s.c. Also, some of the topics in this book are rather mature, making this book more suited for upper teens and beyond.

Jellicoe Road @ Amazon
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