Hardcover, 419 pages
Published August 26th 2008 by HarperTeen
Source: Personal copy
“Do you want to know the worst part?” he asks. I can tell this is so hard for him because he won’t look at us. “Sometimes I forget just how bad he was, so all I can remember is that he’s dead because of me. It’s unnatural, what I did. Sometimes I’m thinking about it in the middle of class and I’ll walk out and ring my mum and say, ‘I remember that he took us to the circus, and that we were laughing, so why did I do what I did?’ She always has an answer. ‘And that night he smashed my head against the glass cabinet, Jonah. Do you remember that? And when he burnt your brother with the cigarettes, Jonah?’
“Other times I’ll wake her in the middle of the night and say, ‘He told me that no one loved us as much as he did.’ And she’ll say, ‘And then he walked around the house with a gun, threatening to kill us all, because he wanted us to be together forever.’
Griggs looks up at us. “What happens when she’s not my memory anymore? What happens when she’s not around to tell me about his belt leaving scars across my two year old brother’s face or when he whacked her so hard that she lost her hearing for a week? Who’ll be my memory?”
Santangelo doesn’t miss a beat. “I will. Ring me.”
“Same,” Raffy says.
To be completely honest, I don’t like reading realistic fiction because it’s always so darned sad and filled with issues that weigh heavily on me. Real life itself is difficult enough to handle. I use fiction as an escape and I don’t want the fiction I read to be chockful of the issues I’m trying to avoid. At least, not unless there are elves and magic involved. It takes a rare book to make me like realistic fiction and Jellicoe Road is one of the few ones that do.
There are three other books on that short list of realistic fiction I absolutely adore and all three of them were also written by Marchetta. Telling, huh?
Anyway, I’ve been wanting to write about Jellicoe Road for the longest while. I read it and I loved it so much that I didn’t want to analyze it. So I didn’t. Then I read it again and still didn’t feel like writing anything about it. The third time I read it, I loved it even more–it’s not perfect but it gets so darned close to it that I’m just about incoherent. Hah.
The story focuses on two groups of friends. One group of friends is in the present time and the other in the past. The relationship the group in the past has to the group in the present is what the story is made of.
The story itself focuses on Taylor Markham. Broken, wounded Taylor who lashes out at everything and everyone that will make her soft. Who clings to the one person who doesn’t give her the answers she’s yearning for. Taylor whom adults continue letting down and Taylor who has dreams of a boy in a tree.
The boarding school Taylor attends is divided into different houses that are separated by gender. Taylor is the unwilling leader of one of these houses. But she’s not just the leader of the house; she is also the leader of the underground community. Jellicoe School is involved in a territory war with the townies and the cadets who come camping near Jellicoe Road every summer. Places are lost and regained in this war; there is a purple notebook (courtesy of a Chairman Meow) full of relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) rules. No boarding school gets along with a townie and vice versa–and don’t even think about the cadets.
Taylor begins the story as prickly as a porcupine–with good reason. She is estranged from her friends Raffy and Ben in the beginning but eventually thaws out and lets them in. She makes friends with the leader of the townies and the son of the town’s mayor and police chief, Chaz Santangelo. Then there’s Jonah Griggs:
Not just a name but a state of mind I never want to revisit…
Jonah and Taylor have history. And not the romantic kind. I won’t say anymore because you need to experience it for yourself.
The book is heavy and deals with dark and important themes like drug, abandonment, parental neglect and at one point, pedophilia. There is a lot of pain and angst and the questions it asks…
Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them?
are ones that will give you pause. But Marchetta’ magic is in the relationships she builds and the ease with which she portrays them. The friendships between the group in the past and the group in the present are flawed and deeply so but are presented with an inherent honesty that gives evidence of their sincerity. You want to believe that friendships like the ones in the book exist and you want to have friends like the ones in the book. The romances in the novel are subplots and while their importance is considerable, at no point do they take over the story. In fact, they are seamlessly woven through the story. This book is a true crossover novel because all the adults present in the novel are just as easy to empathize with and be sympathetic to as the teenagers which just brings home the point: at no point do we ever stop growing.
Also, the book is funny. Witness:
I lean against the bars that separate us from the others. “So let me get this right,” I say to one of the Townie girls. “All it takes is to insult someone’s mother?”
“No,” she explains. “That’s the beauty of it. They don’t actually have to insult. The words Your mother are enough.”
“So if I said to you, ‘Your mother is a…?'” I shrug.
“Just ‘Your mother.'” But it doesn’t work if girls say it to each other,” she continues. “You have to have a penis for it to affect you in such a way.”
What I mean by this so-called review is…read the book. READ IT.
(I’m looking at you, Yash. ^^)