Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Published:Published September 1st 2008 by HarperTeen (first published September 1st 2006)
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.
Last week I touched on the fact that I'd finally gotten around to reading some of the books that everyone has sworn to me are must reads, and while so many books don't live up to the hype, I don't think anyone can deny the perfection of this book. I don't think most people even know what to say or remember how to speak after reading it. So you were all right. It is that good.
The story starts out with an accident that happened years ago. It's part of an unfinished book that Taylor Markham is reading. Taylor is an orphaned, permanent resident of a boarding school on the Jellicoe Road and the book is a work in progress of Hannah's, the woman who has helped raise her. As Taylor's story is being told, Taylor herself is reading a story set in her own school over eighteen years ago.
"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, 'What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?' and my father said, 'Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,' and that was the last thing he ever said."
The Jellicoe boarding school residents, the local kids (Townies) and the boys of a neighboring military school (Cadets) are engaged in a mock war against each other. The surrounding territory is divided up into zones and for years the three factions have been fueding over territory. Though it's all basically just a game, it is a long standing tradition and everyone must play it. Taylor is the school's newest leader, and it is her job to help organize acts of subterfuge against the opposition to gain "territory" and strength. As she is playing the game, she is also reading about the game as it was played eighteen years ago by the children in Hannah's story.
Taylor doesn't remember much before she was taken in by Hannah and the school. With a vague recollection of her past, a present tangled in the make believe of a mock war and a future that is still undecided, Hannah is the only permanent, real thing in Taylor's life. But she leaves unexpectedly, leaving Taylor and the story behind. As the game goes on, more of Taylor's past is revealed, and the people in Hannah's story prove to be more than fiction.
With so many stories being told, I can admit that I was a bit confused at first but I had to keep reading. I had to know what happened! The mystery and suspense was killing me but I didn't get to learn anything until Taylor herself learned it. It's such a marvelous puzzle. I was forced to take my time and be patient since I wouldn't be allowed to see the big picture until Taylor saw it herself. It completely binds the reader to the story, and you can't not read it. I felt that as Taylor's story grew, I was growing along with it. Very rarely do I finish a book and immediately want to reread it. Most of the time I need a break from the story when it's over but I didn't want to give this one up. I suspect that each reread (and there will be many) will reveal something new.
While it wasn't a sad story, some of the things that happened were. You're involved with not only Taylor but with the five children who survived the accident in Hannah's story which gets a little heavy. It wasn't until the very end that I fully understood what had happened. That epilogue just about killed me and I bawled like a baby.
The writing was outstanding and I loved that the characters were real. They didn't feel contrived or written as one would think a teenager would act or speak. She didn't try to stereotype them; she just let them be. I don't want my YA stories to read like they were written by adults trying to see things from a younger person's perspective, nor do I want to feel like I'm reading a kid's story. I want them to simply read and tell the story. Marchetta's writing makes sure that nothing stands in the way of that. If it's good, you shouldn't be able to make any distinction as to what genre it fits in. A good book is a good book.
I can easily dub this book as the best one I've read this year and the book I've had the hardest time breaking away from. If you haven't read it, well, you just have to.