Book Review : Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Taylor Markham is the president in her house at the boarding school, is seventeen, and continuing the tradition of the territory wars against the Townies and Cadets. It should be a great year before she leaves school, but she is haunted by the question of why her mother abandoned her when she was eleven years old at the 7/11. Hannah has an unfinished house next to the school and acts as a mentor to the children. Unexpectedly Hannah is called away to be with a friend leaving Taylor foundering as she reads the story that Hannah had left behind. John Griggs, the leader of the Cadets, is back in town sending Taylor even farther into a tailspin. The clues mount pressing Taylor to discover the truth about her mother and about herself.
Adult Point of View
Jellicoe Road and Looking for Alaska seem to be indicative of a new trend in young adult literature. Defining characteristics in this trend seem to be heavy themes being explored, such as abandonment, death and becoming an adult, dysfunctional families, violence and complex relationships between friends. I greatly prefer Jellicoe Road over Looking for Alaska because the content is not as sexualized and drugs and alcohol are portrayed negatively. Jellicoe Road does contain two sex scenes and some crude language. I can’t actually imagine giving this book to a young teenager to read, even though the front cover says it is meant for grades nine and up. The first year I would consider giving Jellicoe Road to a teen to read would be as a senior in high school.
The first third of the book is intentionally written to be confusing bouncing back and forth between the story that Hannah has been writing about Webb, Narnie, Tate, Fitz and Jude, and the events written from Taylor’s point of view and Taylor’s dreams. After the initial confusion clears up I found the novel sucked me in wanting to find out the connections between Hannah’s story and Taylor’s life. When I reread some of the passages in the opening of the book the content was very clear because everything does get linked together.
Hannah’s story is absolutely heartbreaking, Narnie and Webb lost both their parents and a sibling in a car wreck on Jellicoe Road leaving Narnie without a will to live. Tate also lost her family in the wreck and Fitz came on a stolen bike pulling the survivors out of the car before it exploded. Later, Jude, a Cadet, marched along the road having ruined the poppies that had been planted and came back to replant the flowers that had been destroyed resulting in his becoming friends with the other four. Jude always feels like he is an outsider in the group and he wants to belong. As the friends grow up, Tate and Webb are in love and Tate is pregnant by seventeen, but Webb is killed accidentally. Fitz eventually goes crazy and kills himself and Tate is distraught without Webb and leads a life of self-destruction. When almost everyone else seems to lose control of their lives Narnie decides to live on and develops a love for Jude.
The territory wars have continued for about sixteen years as set out in the Little Purple Book indicating the rules, maps and boundaries. The wars only go on for the six weeks when the Cadets are present. The leaders have to confine the younger students so they don’t wander into enemy territory that might cause a bloody skirmish and the loss of territory in payment for trespassing.
Several people begin to emerge as the important characters which include, Taylor Markham, a leader of the boarding school, John Griggs, leader of the Cadets, Chaz Santangelo, a leader of the Townies, Raffaela (Raffy), another leader figure at the school, and to a lesser degree Ben Cassidy, a violinist, and Jessa McKenzie, an enthusiastic young student. Years earlier Taylor had run away and found John Griggs going the same way as they went to try and find their parents. Surprisingly John calls his school at the last moment and the two kids are picked up by the Brigadier and brought back to their schools. Later, Taylor discovers that John had actually planned to throw himself in front of the train because he was distraught that he had killed his abusive father, and her presence had saved his life. Chaz, from the Townies, also has a connection with Raffy because they have grown up in town and have a crush on each other. Ben is often the liaison between the factions. Jessa McKenzie has a close relationship with Hannah, which irritates Taylor and further wants to hang onto Taylor “like those tenacious fox terriers that grab hold of the bottom of your pants and tug”.
Taylor also has dreams about a boy in a tree talking to her that offers further clues to Taylor’s family which becomes clear toward the end of the book. Surprisingly Jellicoe Road has Gothic elements including the metaphysical dreams, the Prayer Tree (as a church) and the Hermit.
I thought this was one of the best quotes, “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.” (p. 1) By the end of the book you will know that you have been on a journey. A journey is all about learning and growth.
I don’t know how to grade this book with stars because it certainly has literary merit even though I feel like it is too mature for most teenagers. It is well thought out, the characters are interesting, it explores universal themes and uses great literary elements. Even with all of this to recommend it, I cannot say that it was a favorite. Most people will give it four stars or more, but I am going to give it less because (that is my prerogative since this is my blog) and because I think the material is too intense for most of high school.
3 out of 5 stars
– the Mother