Genre: Young adult fiction
Publisher, Year: Harper Teen, 2008
Other Works: Saving Francesca, Looking for Alibrandi
Flags: Moderate language, teen angst, tenuous references
Rating: B+, or Mostly Good
Premise: A young girl, abandoned as a child, finds a mysterious connection with the past in a town she thought she came to just by chance.
I was really excited to read this one. It’s my first experience with Marchetta, and I was hopeful to find another YA Australian author to add to my list of favorites. As a Printz winner and an often recommendation from several bloggers, I thought it stood a good chance of becoming a must read for me as well. Although I found this book hard to put down and I *liked* the story, I didn’t find it a homerun, I’m sorry to report.
Taylor Markham has had a difficult life. As a child, she grew up in the home of a drug-addicted single mother who abandoned her at a gas station on Jellicoe Road. She was found by a woman named Hannah, with whom she has an often turbulent relationship, and ended up at the Jellicoe School. She finds it hard to relate to her fellow students and is taken by surprise when she is chosen to lead her classmates in a territory war with the Townies and Cadets that began so many years ago. Just as she is getting started in this new role, Hannah--the only family she’s ever really known--mysteriously disappears, leaving her anxious and questioning her whole existence. With her support system vanished, Taylor finds friendship in unlikely places, all the while piecing together an old story about a terrible accident which also resulted in unlikely friendships, ones that Taylor begins to suspect may have affected her life in ways that she can’t imagine.
Marchetta is certainly a compelling writer, and I found myself very unable to put Jellicoe Road down. Let’s just say in the two days it took me to read this book, my toddler was watching a lot of Sesame Street and eating a lot of treats. If that alone could make a book for me, than Marchetta would have aced the test.
I enjoyed the complexity of the stories, and the ways in which they converged. I think what Marchetta did best was to illustrate the need everyone has of family, of belonging, of knowing that someone somewhere loves you. That connection to the past, to your own origins, is so tantamount because it gives you a place to be rooted, and then you are free to grow, to change, to become what you want to. When terrible things happen, there must be an explanation, no matter how tragic or how hurtful, as to why. There is a certain peace and calm that comes with knowledge and understanding, especially of a person’s past. Without that, Taylor was just a wisp in the wind, unable to connect to anyone, to really care about life, to look past her own strange and concealed history.
Marchetta’s characters do come off the page; they are very much alive and distinct. However, that they are realistic is not a compliment I can pay. I really tired of Taylor by the end. She is the type of character I rather dislike, in that she acts as if she can take care of herself but is completely unable, in every instance, to do so. Every bit of new truth set off either a health attack, a deep depression, or erratic and misdirected anger. Are these all normal emotions for someone who is faced with her kind of life? Perhaps, but it still bordered on a hysteria that gets old fast.
I found Jonah to be equally as unbelieveable, but in the opposite way. He was the ever-stalwart caretaker, which I found to be a stretch for any normal person, certainly in the case of a teenage boy. Were there mitigating circumstances? Yes. But I think even taking those into consideration, it was just a little much. No relationship can stand when one person is always giving, the other always receiving. And Taylor needed all of what Jonah could give, and more. That all being said, I still felt both characters had depth. Although there was more than one instance of eye-rolling as I was reading their interactions, I’ve got to hand it to Marchetta. Notwithstanding, Taylor and Jonah and all the other inhabitants of Jellicoe were all memorable characters.
Overall, an interesting and enjoyable story, but not one I feel devoted to. I don’t know that I would recommend this one. I think if it were to be made into a miniseries, “soap opera” would be the term to describe it. I simply didn’t feel the degree of reality and seriousness that I wish could have been there.