Friday, February 4, 2011

Review of On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Pages: 300
Publisher: Penguin
Published: June 26th, 2007 (September 1st, 2008, in the US)
IBSN: 9780670070299

"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.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

I've read books by Melina Marchetta before. My school librarian recommended The Piper's Son when the class I had in the library got boring (guess how many times the teacher can re-explain quadratic factorisation to the class before Skye goes crazy?). Looking For Alibrandi was on our school's curriculum, but was replaced before I could study it. But I must have forgotten how amazing her writing really is in the few years since I've read her books. I was taken aback all over again by how lyrical her writing seems and by how vivid the insight she gives into the main character's head is.

On The Jellicoe Road (shortened to 'Jellicoe Road' in the US) was, put simply, amazing. One of my favorite books ever. The characters were amazing, the plot was amazing, everything about this book was amazing.

Taylor has a tragic past that has a clear affect on her present character. It's admirable that unlike most characters with grievous and confusing backgrounds, she doesn't want to move on, she wants to figure it out. But the problem with solving the mystery that is her past is that her only link to it - Hannah - has gone AWOL leaving  behind only her manuscript about five kids her age who grew up in Jellicoe, too.

The story of the five kids - Narnie, Tate, Fitz, Web, and Jude - is scattered unordered throughout the book. Their story is so absolutely happy and hopeful at its highs, and heartbreaking at its lows. The saddest part is where Hannah's manuscript doesn't turn out to be a manuscript, but a chronicle of the generation before Taylor's.

Taylor starts out as aloof and distant, but softens as she's given the responsibility of house leader. The way she looks at the people around her changes completely, and consequently, the way we readers think of all the characters warps. Take Jonah for instance, who at first seemed like a prick (I almost cried when I thought he was going to paint over the tree), but turns out to have so much more depth. Jonah was the perfect love interest, mainly because he wasn't perfect. 

The ending, where Taylor discovers the truth about her parents, is so heart-breaking I found myself wishing she never even tried to find out about them. But she's such a different and stronger person for knowing, even if it didn't end happily ever after.

This book had so many amazing quotes that I wanted to dog-ear pages and underline them so I could just come back and revisit them. But the book came from the library, and I refrained. My favorite quote from On The Jellicoe Road was:

"When it was over, she gathered him in her arms. And told him the terrible irony of her life. 
That she had wanted to be dead all those years while her brother had been alive. That had been her sin. 
And this was her penance. 
Wanting to live when everyone else seemed dead."

I give On The Jellicoe Road a 6 out of 5, and recommend it to you, your best friend, your neighbour, that kid down the road with the gap-toothed smile, your dog (if you could teach him to read). EVERYONE.


I read this book for the Aussie YA Reading Challenge.