Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta has been on my to-read list for years. Marchetta's Australian YA novel won the Printz Award in 2008, recognized for its excellence in writing for young adults. I purchased Jellicoe Road in a recent Amazon book order, and have started and stopped reading it about half a dozen times over the last three months. There are two intertwining story lines - one communicated through italics and one in real time - there are Cadets and Townies and a Hermit and a Brigadier and a boy in a dream. I found the first dozen pages or so disorienting, and put down the book several times instead of pushing through. Part of my reluctance to keep reading was the reality of a very busy semester where most of my reading was characterized as fast and easy. When the semester was over, I tried again, and I read all of Jellicoe Road in one sitting. The very aspects of the book that initially pushed me out were the same that ended up holding me captivated throughout. 

Taylor Markham is caught up in a war between the Townies, the Cadets, and the School students for territory around Jellicoe Road. She has just been elected the new leader of the School students, and it is up to her to negotiate with Griggs (a Cadet, the Cadet) and Santangelo (a Townie) for control over the Prayer Tree, the Club House, the trails, and the river. But Taylor has a history with Griggs, a Cadet she ran away with several years before on a search for her missing mother. 

When Hannah, the only real guardian Taylor has had in her life for the past few years, disappears suddenly, she finds her world slowly crumbling. The territory wars are the least of her worries, although they are the most pressing issue at hand. She must figure out to navigate her history with Griggs, and to understand the history between her best friend Raffaela and Santangelo. Meanwhile, there is the boy who keeps visiting her dreams, and Taylor knows he's trying to tell her something. Jellicoe Road is a giant question that Marchetta slowly answers, drawing out resolutions over the course of the book.

Marchetta's writing is fantastic, and I've already ordered another one of her books, Looking for Alibrandi, to read next. For example, she casts Taylor as a teenager without connections, who will do anything to understand how people make connections with one another and build a community of caring individuals. When Taylor's relationship with Griggs begins to evolve, she reflects, 
"I wanted to say that I didn't need to breathe on my own when Jonah Griggs was kissing me, but seeing he hasn't touched me since that night, I can't even bring myself to think of him. It's not like he's ignoring me, because that would be proactive. It's like I'm just anyone to him. Even when we were squashed in the back seat, our knees glued together and our shoulders touching and my insides full of butterflies, he was speaking over my head and the whole time with Santangelo about some ridiculous AFL/Rugby League thing. Somwhere along the way, Jonah Girggs has become a priority in my life and his attitude this week has been crushing" (245). 
Jellicoe Road is one of the most satisfying books I've read this year (and that includes Jandy Nelson's unforgettable I'll Give You the Sun), and the first time I've stayed up until two a.m. to finish a book in a long time. It presents a magical story that continues to surprise until the very end. Taylor's voice is strong and unwavering, even in the face of everything she has endured. There are more heartbreaking moments scattered throughout Jellicoe Road than I was expecting, as Marchetta constructs an emotional build that doesn't even really let go. I would have gladly continued to read Taylor's story well after it ended. Jellicoe Road became one of those books that made me understand why so many readers ask authors about sequels; there are some characters you want to hang onto, and never really let go.
"I watch them both and for the first time it occurs to me that I'm no longer flying solo and that I have no intention of pretending that I am. I have an aunt and I have a Griggs and this is what it's like to have connections with people. 'Do you know what?' I ask both of them. 'If you don't build a bridge and get over it, I'll never forgive either of you'" (400-401). 

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