YA Friday: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Friday, September 09, 2011

Title: Jellicoe Road
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2008
Source: Library

Jellicoe Road is a difficult book to summarize, and I hate to borrow a summary because none that I've read have done it justice. We have Taylor, an abandoned teenager at a boarding house, in charge of leading the complicated territory wars between those at the school, the people from town, and the Cadets, who visit for six weeks every year (this territory wars aspect reminded me a bit of The Golden Compass). Then we have five kids from the past who seem to have some sort of mysterious connection to Taylor and the territory wars. Mix in a scowling Cadet who keeps showing up in Taylor's life history, an assortment of friends, and some gut-clenching emotion and you have Jellicoe Road.

I'll be honest - at the beginning of this book I was pretty sure it was going to be a dud for me. I was bewildered by the territory wars, which Taylor launched into immediately and without explanation. There was some sort of parallel story going on that I couldn't link to anything Taylor was talking about. I tend to be rather impatient with being confused in a book. I don't hate difficult books, but I do hate being left in the dark when I'm not sure if I can trust the author to illuminate things eventually. I also struggled with Taylor at first. She seemed to hate everyone, even her devoted old-soul of a best friend, Raffaela, and her young cling-on of a housemate, Jessa.

However, as fragments of Taylor's story began to be unraveled, I started to understand her better. I saw how her past had made her defensive, how beneath her tough exterior was a creature burning with love for her friends and created family. And while the territory wars didn't truly make any sense to me until the very end of the book, slowly they became an interesting and unique thing to experience in the book rather than a stumbling block to my personal enjoyment.

I'm torn with this kind of book. I was so exasperated at being left in the dark at the beginning, but as everything fell into place with such perfect symmetry, as the puzzle fragments clicked into place, I felt much more satisfaction than I would have felt if the story had been handed to me gift-wrapped in pretty paper. I experienced something similar with Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, another book that exasperated me and yet moved me at the end. I think possibly the books that give me the most grief can be the most rewarding to finish, with the caveat that things do come together in the end. So while this book and I didn't make a great first impression on each other, by the end of the story we had a more stimulating relationship than we would have had we instantly melded into a comfortable friendship.

Jellicoe Road was deeply moving as well, and at first I wasn't sure why. The events that transpire are very unique, certainly not things that I can relate to personally, and yet they went straight to my soul. I finally realized the answer is love. That is what makes a book moving, and this book was bursting with it. I don't mean romance, sex, or infatuation. I mean connection, emotion, and meaning. If I wanted to be cliche, I would say the book had "heart." Romantic love was present, but even stronger was friendship that stretched across enemy lines (literally) and family love that lasted after death. It isn't told in a fluffy teddy-bear, picnics and white ruffled dresses way. There is nothing idyllic about this book. It is raw, jagged, gritty. But for that reason, it is all the more powerful. I'll give you a good solid quote in a minute.

Before I give the quote, I want to touch on one more thing. The writing is fantastic. I don't think a story this odd could have been pulled off if the writing wasn't so apt, so dead-on, so conveying. Now you can have the quote.
How does Jonah Griggs get to be a ten? He sits on a train with me when we're fourteen and he weeps, tearing at his hair, bashing his head with the palm of his hand, self-hatred pouring out of him like blood from a gut wound in a war movie, and for the first time in my whole life I have a purpose. I am the holder of the grief and pain and guilt and passion of Jonah Griggs and as we sit huddled on the floor of the carriage, he allows me to hold him, to say, "Shhh, Jonah, it wasn't your fault." While his body still shakes from the convulsions, he takes hold of my hand and links my fingers with his and I feel someone else's pain for the first time that I can remember. 
I can't really follow an act like that, so just read the book.

4.5 stars

Warnings: Swears, some violence, a not-too-descriptive sex scene


  1. Jonah Griggs wrecked me.

    I almost wish there was a second volume so I could know more about Jonah and his story, because there is so much to be told there. (also with The Hermit.)

    This book was so good and left me with many of the same impressions. I don't really know what to say, except that it was brilliantly written. It was exhausting for me to read, also, because I read it with as much of me as I could. If that makes any sense at all.


  2. You probably don't remember me, but I'm Kathryn & Ashleigh's friend, Katie. I have been known to blog-stalk you, but I'm usually really bad about commenting. I had to reply to this one though!

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Melina Marchetta! Jellicoe Road was the first of her books that I read. I'll admit it, I picked it up because it won the Printz. I almost didn't finish it. Like you, I was confused about the two plot lines, didn't understand the territory wars, and wondered why on earth everyone thought this was such a great book. I set it down several times and almost took it back to the library.

    But I didn't. And I'm so glad I didn't. The story is so beautiful. When I recommend this book to others I tell them not to try and figure it out--just to read it. I fell in love with all of the characters, and just got lost in the beauty of the writing. It's raw. It's layered. It's so moving. I went out and bought a copy of this one after I'd read it from the library because I wanted to mark passages and fold down pages I liked.

    I've read this one three times now, and each time it gets to me. The writing is so powerful, and once I finished it and got past the frustration of not "getting it" during my first read, I found some really beautiful passages in the first part of the book too. I'm so glad you liked it too. I think we have very similar tastes!

    I have to also give a shout out to some of Marchetta's other books. Her first one, Looking for Alibrandi, was enjoyable. It didn't have the depth of Jellicoe Road, but I enjoy seeing a writer's development throughout the course of his/her novels. I recently read Saving Francesca and enjoyed it as well. I'm eagerly awaiting reading her fantasy novel, as well as the companion to Francesca.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to go on and on in the comments. I just can't help myself with certain books! So glad you liked this one! Great review!

  3. @Asheley - Wrecked is the perfect word for it! I wanted more of that book as well, especially about Jonah Griggs. Although it has one of those perfect endings I hate to disturb. And I love what you said about reading with as much of you as you could. That is a beautiful sentiment.

    @ktnelson - Yay, it is good to hear from you again! And it was fun to meet you earlier this summer at the scrapbook all-niter. :) I love those books that you can read so many times and learn something new each time. I feel that way about Kartography by Kamila Shamsie. And I am definitely hoping to read more of Melina Marchetta's work - I've added it to my (way too long) TBR list. If you ever have other recommendations let me know, because I totally trust your judgment.

  4. I SO need to reread Jellicoe Road! I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a book I reread every year. I LOVE it! So SO much! Your review makes me so happy because you loved it too!! :D Seriously. SO amazing!! Sigh.

  5. Ashley - It is such a good one! I'm glad I had your enthusiastic endorsements. :) Have you read any other books by Melina Marchetta? I've heard good things about all of them but get the impression that Jellicoe Road is the best.

  6. Jellicoe is the best and most complex of the Marchetta books I've read, but I've also read Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son and both are AMAZING. They are more accessible to a lot of readers that find JR too... much. JR is my favorite & I do plan to read all her other novels at some point (she has a fantasy book too, that I have not yet read, Finnikin of the Rock and it's sequel which will be released soon, Froi of the Exiles) But, anything Melina's writes is worth reading. :)

  7. Ashley - I am definitely planning on reading everything Melina Marchetta has written at this point! I can't wait!


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