Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jellicoe Road

Title:               Jellicoe Road
Category:       Realistic
Grade:            14-17
Author:          Melina Marchetta
Publisher:       HarperTeen
Place:              New York
Date:               2008
Pages:             418

Taylor Markham just wants to be left to herself.  However, her boarding school dorm has other ideas.  After being elected leader of the Houses, Taylor immediately finds herself engaged in the territory wars the school students have with other teens from town (the Townies) and the teens returning annually for outdoor training (the Cadets). Her duties prove complicated, however, when the Cadet leader turns out to be Jonah Griggs, a boy she traveled with when running away to find her mother several years before.  As the three faction leaders begin to bond, the wars become less important and old boundaries and hatreds slowly crumble.  Meanwhile, the mystery of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned Taylor on Jellicoe Road, looms larger, especially when it seems connected to the mysterious disappearance of Taylor’s guardian, Hannah.  Interspersed through the story are flashbacks of four other children who survived and bonded over a car wreck on Jellicoe Road years before.  As the stories come together finally, Taylor will discover the mystery of her long-lost mother, her strange dreams and even the origins of the territory feud. 

The importance of family and friendships are strong adolescent themes in this book, but the sheer number of characters, the slow pace, and the complex, often confusing, dual plot is likely to deter many readers. Jellicoe Road suffers from many of the same problems of Finnikin of the Rock, also by Marchetta, and arguably even more so.  Marchetta always does have a story to tell, but getting to it and digging it out can be exhausting.  In spite of the fact that Jellicoe is realistic fiction, most U.S. teens do not have the experience with boarding school to be able to handle being thrust into the middle of complex inter-House politics with no background or buildup provided.  Adding the bizarre, often cryptic flashback sequences and the first half of this book becomes both confusing and dry. While the story does resolve beautifully and all the mysteries are finally solved, aired and closed, many teens may not have the patience or persistence to stick with the wieldy maze that is the rest of the book.  The romance between Taylor and Jonah is by turns intriguing and sweet, which is a point in the book’s favor and may help to keep teens engaged, and good readers are thrown enough clues and answers by the middle to keep reading.  While the love and care that many of the characters consistently demonstrate for each other, even through great difficulty, sends a beautiful message, Marchetta’s verbose and often muddling writing style make this a hard book to recommend to any but the most sophisticated readers.


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