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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (432 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Dandelion

"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.

Read this book with patience, and you will be rewarded. Jellicoe Road begins its story in the middle of Taylor Markham’s rocky adolescence. She’s 17 and angry at the world - and with good reason, since her mother abandoned her when she was 11; she doesn’t know her father; Hannah, the only adult she trusts, has vanished without explanation; and Taylor has been named a House leader at the boarding school she attends. Being a leader means, among other things, she has to negotiate the school’s role in the “territory wars” with the Townies and the Cadets.

Sound confusing? It is. And that’s only one plot. The book actually begins with a car accident that devastates two families and brings together 5 young children - who have a connection to Taylor decades later. Jellicoe Road follows these two plotlines until they interweave about halfway through the book. Even after the initial relationships are revealed, though, readers will be surprised by how the rest of the puzzle pieces fit together: how Taylor learns about her parents, why Hannah has disappeared, and why the territory wars are so important.

The character development in this book is its strength. Though Taylor is at times whiny and self-absorbed, she has reason to be. When she finally starts trusting people around her, especially the other girls in her House and Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets and her sometimes-boyfriend, she becomes sympathetic and compelling. I was cheering for her by the end. Jonah is equally well-developed, and in fact the friendship-turned-romance between the two main characters is one of the best I’ve read in YA. Both are terribly flawed and angry, yet they find solace, comfort, and strength in each other in a really beautiful, believable way.

Though at times the jumping back and forth between plotlines is jarring and hard to follow, the early story beginning with the car accident really adds mystery to the novel and keeps the pages turning. At times I did think the first half of the novel was slow, because the author is trying to introduce a lot of key information without giving anything away. Characters are mentioned but not named, which can be confusing. Still, if you stick with it, eventually things make sense, and the story moves a lot faster once you pass the halfway point. I may have wished that this book was about 100 pages shorter, but despite its slow start, Jellicoe Road is an interesting, original book about love, friendship, and family ties that deserves a spot on young readers’ shelves.

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