Backlist Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Genre: young-adult, contemporary, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 419 (hardback edition)
Published: first August 2006
Source: purchased
Rating: All the stars - or 5/5 

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

Jellicoe Road was my first Marchetta novel - though this is an author highly touted and often recommended, I was strangely hesitant to read any of her books. Example? I bought Marchetta's acclaimed ya fantasy Finnikin of the Rock for Nook over two months ago, when it was on sale for $2.99, and haven't yet peeked at a page. Hype is often a double-edged sword, as many other anticipated YA novels can attest and I didn't want to feel the sting of disappointment here. I have to say that the first 50 pages of Jellicoe certainly intriiigued me, but they didn't quite convince me as I had hoped. I can certainly see why some readers find the beginning off-putting and hard to comprehend initially, but even after the dual narrative of past and present were cleared up, I just didn't get It, the Big Deal about this book and this author. Then, near about 100 pages later and a "save yourself, Taylor," I got it in a big way.  This book made me Feel Things. All of the feelings really: happiness, amusement, sorrow, anger, fear, love. I'm stuck with the feeling that no matter how much I edit and revise and rethink, I will never be able to do this beautiful novel justice. As soon as I finished this, I knew I didn't want to think about other characters, other stories. I wanted to stay here, in Jellicoe, with these characters. So I did the only thing that made sense and flipped the book over and immediately began rereading all my favorite parts. It still packs a punch the second time around, even knowing explicitly what will happen.

I grabbed this on a whim three days ago, having been close to finishing the excruciatingly emotional Code Name Verity but with 100 pages and hours of work to go, I opted for a longer novel that hopefully wouldn't make me cry at work. How wrong I was; tears were streaming down by my lunch break (aka p. 255) I engulfed this absorbing, heart-breaking tale in just over twelve hours, covering work and family dinner, starting just before I left at 9 am, sneaking in pages whenever - wherever - I could. Melina Marchetta is the real deal: an imitable and simple but striking style, a masterful storyteller with impressive authorial sleight-of-hand, capable of rendering complex, fallible and damaged characters I still wholly and completely loved. This novel is a masterpiece of young-adult fiction (the 'territory war' was obviously the weakest part of the novel, but it brought together the core four [Taylor, Santangelo, Raffaela, Griggs] initially and eventually was revealed to have a larger purpose) and Melina Marchetta deserves all the accolades she's garnered. As the lovely Emily May of GoodReads so aptly put it: "[She] plays my emotions like Jimi Hendrix played guitar." Skillfully, elegantly, and above all subtly, Marchetta takes utmost time and care with crafting both her storylines and her compellingly damaged and so so real characters.

And let me tell you: oh boy, did I ever care about Taylor, Jonah, Jude, Hannah, Tate, Jessa, Webb, etc. While it took a while for these many personalities to manifest, I think this might one of my most beloved ensembles. From Jonah to Jude, these characters are real, vibrant, and dear to me. Jonah Griggs: I officially Get It. I officially Want One of My Own. Everyone take note for in Jellicoe Road, with Melina's hand at the wheel, there is an authentic, believable and touching YA romance with a swoon-worthy broody love-interest. I don't go in for broody asmuch now that I'm not 17 and I certainly don't say "swoon-worthy" as a descriptor for men I like, but Jonah Griggs defies that. He is broody and swoon-worthy, but that's not all he is. Like Taylor and Jude (Oh, Jude <3. I think he broke my heart as much as Griggs did.) this damaged young-man is developed and rounded. The scenes between him and Taylor - fighting, teasing, loving - all have electricity, a palpable tension, and their relationship is one of the few credible romances in YA. Jellicoe Road is moving, powerful and dramatic without being emotionally manipulative - when Taylor lashes out at whoever is convenient (not my Griggs!), I feel for her wild pain instead of rolling my eyes at her melodrama. Most of the characters have significant tragedies in their pasts, especially Taylor and Jonah, but this is an author that appreciates retraint and how to show emotion without overdoing it and making it a Production. I finished this novel nothing if not in awe of the talent shown throughout from the author - from plot development to character reveals, this is one of the best.

Before, I was scared to read Marchetta because I feared she/the novel wouldn't live up to expectations. Now I just don't know where to start - I've ordered hardback copies of Finnikin, its sequel Froi of the Exiles, and Saving Francesca. I just can't do this novel justice - whatever I say feels inadequate. This book moved me, like The Book Thief did - at my core, in a place few novels and characters truly reach. I said before that Melina Marchetta could have been a victim of the hype machine but now all I want to do is force all my family and friends to read her novels. I've decided that the hype around this author and this book isn't big enough yet - everyone should be reading this author. Jellicoe Road is a gripping read, one that inspired a wide, fully-felt spectrum of emotions and reactions - all of them complimentary. I love this book like I love few others.

My reactions by page, because by 250 I couldn't think critically, I could just fangirl absorb the words as fast as my eyes would move and jot down impressions/thoughts:
p. 250: Oh my god. I <3 Jonah
p. 255: WTF! NO! What! Yass!
p. 297: I want a Griggs.
p. 304: This is heart-breaking, gut-wrenching and still so lovely. This book... "Who will be my memory" I can't.... this book...
p. 315: Could he be any more adorable?
p. 343: And THAT, ladies and gents, is how you write a credible, romantic teenage relationship.
p. 371: oh no oh no oh no I think I know where this is headed oh no
p. 394: damn right you better keep Raffy around - the rare female sidekick that is fully developed and awesome
p. 399 and on: tears
p. 407: Griggs.
p. 416: I love the narrative structure, the symmetry. "My father took a hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted." "My mother took seventeen years to die. I counted." "Wonder dies." "I wonder."

Favorite quotes (SPOILERY so be warned):

"I wrote you for a year and you never wrote back. I rang you over and over again and you would never come to the phone. What part of that gives the impression that I didn't care?"

“What do you want from me?" he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.

“If you weren't driving, I'd kiss you senseless," I tell him.
He swerves to the side of the road and stops the car abruptly.
"Not driving any more.” 

“But grief makes a monster out of us sometimes . . . and sometimes you say and do things to the people you love that you can't forgive yourself for.”  

“No," I say, looking up at Griggs. "It's actually because my heart belongs to someone else." And if I could bottle the look on his face, I'd keep it by my bedside for the rest of my life.” 

"We sit there, holding each other, kissing until our mouths are aching, and then we're pulling off the rest of our clothes and I'm under him and I feel as if I'm imprinted onto his body. Everything hurts, every single thing including the weight of him and I'm crying because it hurts and he's telling me he's sorry over and over again, and I figure that somewhere down the track we'll work out the right way of doing this but I don't want to let go, because tonight I'm not looking for anything more than being part of him. Because being part of him isn't just anything. It's kind of everything."

“If I had to wish for something, just one thing, it would be that Hannah would never see Tate the way I did. Never see Tate's beautiful, lush hair turn brittle, her skin sallow, her teeth ruined by anything she could get her hands on that would make her forget. That Hannah would never count how many men there were, or how vile humans can be to one another. That she would never see the moments in my life that were full of neglect, and fear, and revulsion, moments I can never go back to because I know they will slow me down for the rest of my life if I let myself remember them for one moment. Tate, who had kept Hannah alive that night, reading her the story of Jem Finch and Mrs. Dubose. And suddenly I know I have to go. But this time without being chased by the Brigadier, without experiencing the kindness of a postman from Yass, and without taking along a Cadet who will change the way I breath for the rest of my life.”  

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