Author: Melina Marchetta
Publication Date: 8/26/08
Publisher: Harper Teen
Blurb (GR): "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.
I don't often give books 5-star ratings. Normally these are the books that either horrify me (Unwind, The Handmaid's Tale) or delight me with superb writing (The Queen of Attolia, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) or awe me with imaginative world building (The Left Hand of Darkness) or make me cry (Before I Die). Jellicoe Road definitely falls into this last "made-me-weep" category.
Jellicoe Road is the location of a boarding school for kids that are often neglected or with criminal tendencies. Taylor Markham is residing in the school because her mother had abandoned her at the age of 11 at a nearby 7-Eleven. Now Taylor is 17 and unexpectedly selected to be the school's leader in the game of territory wars with the Townies (locals from a tiny neighboring town) and Cadets (who spend several weeks a year in the Australian wilderness). Taylor is not sure she can handle the responsibility. She is uneasy more than ever - her mentor and friend Hannah disappears and Taylor is sure it has something to do with her mother; Jonah Griggs, a Cadet who she has a shared past with, is back and seems to know her all too well; she is plagued by dreams of a young boy who attempts to tell her something. What follows is Taylor's journey through the past and present to uncover the reasons why and how she was abandoned by her mother.
As always, it is hard for me to explain what I like about a 5-star book, but I'll try. Melina Marchetta draws characters that are deep, complex, and real. The relationships among them are touching - more than anything I think, this book is about the power of friendship and, boy, there are some magnificent examples of friendship in this book! The book is also about grief, guilt, forgiveness and, of course, love.
If I am forced to point out any flaws in this book, I'd say the writing some might find confusing in the beginning. It takes a few pages to figure out what is a dream and what is a page from a story Taylor is reading; what is from present and what is from the past. But soon enough all pieces of the puzzle fall together and you are faced with a deep, meaningful and heartbreaking story.
Another thing that might bother readers is that some characters go through a lot of tragic events, sometimes too many. However, the story never becomes overly melodramatic or emotionally manipulative IMO.
Jellicoe Road is a remarkable work of YA fiction and rightfully deserves the Printz award it was given in 2009. I have no doubt I will read Marchetta's books in future.