Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta
HarperTeen, 2008  432 pgs
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Seventeen-year-old Taylor has resided at an Australian boarding school since her mother abandoned her at a 7-Eleven six years before.  She has been promoted to the head of her house as well as that of the General of what is know as the "Territory Wars".  The Territory Wars have been going on for years between Taylor's school, the townies, and cadets from a military school's yearly encampment.  The current general of the Cadets is the boy that Taylor ran away with three years before and hasn't seen since.  Her former best friend appears to have a previous relationship with the head of the townies, further complicating relations.  While trying to manage her house and the war, Taylor also is dealing with the sudden disappearance of Hannah, her house's adult supervisor and the person she stays with during school breaks.  Taylor is determined to locate Hannah, while also battling the desire to find her long-lost mother.  While Taylor's story unfolds, a parallel story is also revealed; that of five teenage friends a generation before and the history of the inception of the Territory Wars.  What happened to the teenagers?  Where is Taylor's mother and Hannah?  Who is Taylor's father?  Is the Brigadier General who is always hanging about really the serial killer stalking their Australian countryside?  These and other questions will be answered by book's end when both stories come together and the parallel plots are resolved in a satisfactorily way.

I meant to read Jellicoe Road the year it won the Printz (2009), but never got around to it.  It seemed too long, I hated the cover and the description sounded confusing and boring.  Was I ever glad I finally picked it up. Its an amazing book!  The problem is: I don't know that its for teenagers.  The writing is descriptive and eloquent.  The plot is intense and multi-layered.  There are so many little threads to this book.  Somehow Marchetta manages to weave all those threads together and sew them up into a neat little package by the end of the 432 pages.  Even though the book is a little long for me, I didn't care.  I was never bored and had a hard time putting it down.  The trend in well written adult fiction these days is to have more than one story happening simultaneously, managing to come together by the end (ex. And the Mountains Echoed).  Jellicoe Road follows this trend and deservedly won the award for the best piece of teen fiction of the year.  As much as its a brilliant book, it is more of an adult book featuring teen characters.  I do not think most teenagers would have the patience to slog through the first one-hundred pages or so, which are confusing.  Its hard to know who is who and it took me a while to figure out that two stories from different times were happening simultaneously.  Taylor is extremely unlikable for the first half of the book, until we get to know her a bit better and the rural Australian setting may put off American teenagers.  The book is a tear-jerker, which teens love, but its a long way to get to the payoff.  The high school students I serve at my library, although bright and thoughtful, are over-worked and over-scheduled.  They are a bit impatient in their pleasure reading and will give up on a book that doesn't grab them in the first twenty pages.  This book can be appreciated by boys as well as girls, if you can convince them to get past the cover.  Criticisms aside, Jellicoe Road is well worth the time, if you have some to spare.

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