Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent example of why I keep reading even when a beginning fails to impress me. This book started off confusing and weird and with a narrator I hated. But the rough beginning was entirely worth it, by the book's end.

The story is set at the Jellicoe School, which is in a rural part of Australia. We get geographical hints that would probably make sense if I knew the first thing about Australian geography. All I know is that it's a small town whose economy centers around the school and the training grounds where Cadets come for summer training. As long as anyone can remember, there's been a war for territory between the Cadets, Townies, and the kids at the school. Taylor Markham is the leader at the school, but she's too busy worrying about the disappearance of Hannah, the closest she has to family, to care much about their war games.

The rough start to the book is partly because of Taylor's lack of investment in the war game, and partly because the war games are silly. They're posturing kids who would rather just hang out and listen to music together. The book later acknowledges the pointlessness of the territory wars, but that doesn't entirely cancel out the silliness. It makes me wish the author had found some other way of drawing the characters together.

There's a side plot in the book about events that happened 22 years earlier, tied to Hannah's disappearance. There's also a love story, strongly intertwined with the main narrative of Taylor's finding out where she came from. Mostly, though, the story is about looking back to find closure and perspective so that a person can move forward.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book is that, while Taylor is an annoying twit, the book acknowledges as much. Characters challenge her, and she faces consequences for her failure to emotionally grow up. Her growth as a character is an organic process, prodded along by events within the narrative, rather than a sudden epiphany or an event triggered by the plot.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it starts out confusing, and, while a lot of the confusing points are clarified, some of the narrative remains muddled. I'm not sure how the characters come to some of the conclusions they do.

Overall, though, this book is worth getting past the first few chapters to get to the good part. The characters are initially annoying so that they have room for growth, and the emotional impact at the end is stronger for it.

This is a YA book, but, if you're a parent of a younger teen who wants to read this, you may want to screen it. There are several deaths, and none of them are pretty. The damaging effects of drug use are discussed, and there are some sexual elements. None of it is lingered over in detail, but it's up to you to determine whether your kid has the emotional maturity to grasp the context.

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