“It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where the trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La.”
Jellicoe Road kills me. Seriously. Every time I read it (and I’ve read it four times now, not bad for a book published in the U.S. in 2008), I cry. Not a few happy tears at the end of the book, but Beth-dying ugly crying – for at least half the book. The first time I read it, the tears didn’t kick in until the end, but when I re-read it, I barely made it past page 10 before I was a goner.
When Elizabeth and I were talking about it, our conversation basically went like this: “It was so good.” “I cried.” “It was so embarrassing; I couldn’t stop crying.” “It was awesome!”
So I realize all this crying might put some of you off, but that would be a shame. Because Jellicoe Road is lovely. It’s beautifully put together and as the characters slowly emerge, you can’t help but feel affection for them, all the more because they’re not immediately easy to get to know.
I realize I’m being a little obscure, but Jellicoe Road is one of those books, like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, that’s better read with very little prep. If you’re a fan of interesting writing and strong heroines, I’d encourage you to just go grab a copy now and start reading.
For those of you who want a little more info before committing, I’ll dig in a bit.
At the beginning of Jellicoe Road, heroine Taylor Markham’s been named the leader of the underground community at her school, an important role given their ongoing war with townies and the cadets. She has little interest in taking charge, for reasons that are not initially apparent to the reader. She also has all sorts of history with the other characters, history she isn’t too anxious to share. Her reticence means it takes while to get a handle on what’s going on and what’s already happened.
The story unfolds in two distinct narratives – one is Taylor’s and the other is snippets about five kids in the eighties woven throughout the book. Their story haunts and intersects with Taylor’s.
But Taylor is the driving force in the book and drive she does, without any discernable adult interference. One of the tropes of young adult fiction is missing or non-attentive parents, which makes sense as this allows adolescent characters to get into situations that most parents would never countenance (Ahem, Charlie Swan. Your daughter needs counseling. Stat.) Jellicoe Road is one of the few books I’ve read that seriously takes on the implications of absent parents and makes that absence an essential part of the emotional make up of the book.
Taylor’s parents aren’t conveniently abroad or busy at work. They’re gone. And their absence, particularly her mother’s abandonment, shape Taylor’s interaction with everyone she meets. She tells the reader, “I remember love.” But as her story slowly trickles out, her hardiness of spirit becomes increasingly impressive and her memory of love seems more like an act of faith than anything else.
I know this sounds very depressing, but Jellicoe Road is actually a book about community and the family you create for yourself. And unsurprisingly, I think you should read it.
If you liked Jellicoe Road,you should avoid:
Looking for Alibrandi. This was Marchetta’s first book and it was apparently popular enough in Australia to be made into a movie. So someone liked it. But neither I nor Elizabeth managed to finish it (and we both read ALL of Breaking Dawn). This, like The Sherwood Ring, is a bizarrely unappealing book from an awesome author.