Review: Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta

One definite conclusion I have reached from the first half of no-spoilers September is that reading the end sometime saves you misunderstanding the point of a book. I was sure Jellicoe Road was a good fit for the RIP Challenge, a dark gothic fantasy orphan boarding school book. When really all along it was a dark family tragedy orphan boarding school book. Happily for me and my reading experience, I like family tragedy nearly as much as gothic fantasy, so this disparity made me merely muddled, and not ultimately dissatisfied.

Orphan Taylor Markham is the leader of the Jellicoe School army, which must defend its territory against the Cadets and the Townies in a war that has been going on since long before any of them were born. But the lines between the students, the Townies, and the Cadets become fuzzy when Taylor’s longtime guardian Hannah disappears without a word, and Taylor begins to learn more about her own past, and how it relates to a car accident that happened on the Jellicoe Road over two decades ago.

While I was reading this book, I was sometimes bewildered and flipping backward (but never forth! I am a woman of my word!) because of how many characters there were. I was not always immediately able to keep them straight. Fortunately a quick glance at the other reviews, using the Book Blogs Search Engine created by the lovely and brilliant Fyrefly (this blatant plug brought to you by Book Blogger Appreciation Week because I seriously appreciate the hell out of that search engine), revealed to me that everyone found this book bewildering. Hooray! Or, well, semi-hooray. Hooray that I am not alone, and unhooray that when you read this book, and I think you should, you may experience some confusion because the characters are many and sometimes difficult to keep straight.

Apart from that one problem, I loved Jellicoe Road. Once I got past the first couple of chapters, I was absolutely sucked in and couldn’t stop reading. Marchetta manages to make the reader feel that a lot is at stake in the characters’ relationships, without any of them becoming overwrought. High-stakes relationships are lovely to read about, but hard to sustain, and Marchetta manages it at least partly by never giving anyone a pause to catch their breath. The characters suffer, fairly endlessly, but not unreasonably much, not so much that you start thinking, Oh, come on, you’re just trying to think of more and more and more things to do to them; which is something I start thinking pretty quickly with depressing books.

Rereading may turn up a different reaction, because the more I think about it, the more I cannot believe how much pain and suffering the characters all go through. But on this first reading, I was whipping through at a breakneck pace because I was dying to find out what happened the kids in Hannah’s book, and what was going to happen to Taylor and Hannah and Jonah Griggs and the Brigadier. I am excited to read more by this author, and I have checked out a book by her that actually is fantasy and I assume from past experience is dark, so I can read that for the RIP Challenge instead of this.

Who else read it:

Book Addiction
Necromancy Never Pays
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
It’s All About Books
Angieville
The Happy Nappy Bookseller
bookshelves of doom
Persnickety Snark
my fluttering heart
Inkweaver Review
The Children’s Literature Book Club
Wordbird
The YA YA YAs
YAnnabe
Teen Book Review
Maggie Reads
Random Thoughts from a Random Teen
Dear Author

If I have missed yours I will gladly add a link!

  • http://zenleaf.blogspot.com Amanda

    I tried reading this book twice and couldn’t make it past a few chapters. Apparently I just didn’t get to the sucks-you-in point. I’ll have to go back and perhaps give it another try sometime.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Only if you feel like it–I was already semi-interested by the first chapter or two. It just took a little while for the characters to sort out in my mind to the extent that I was able to chill out and enjoy the plot. But if you weren’t enjoying it at all, it may not be for you.

  • http://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com rhapsodyinbooks

    I would like to second the appreciation of Firefly’s Book Blogs Search Engine; it’s the best!

    Jellicoe Road: isn’t that a song by Dire Straits? Okay, maybe it was Telegraph Road. But it has the same number of syllables and now I’m going to be singing that song in my head all night!

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      I don’t know, but any mention of Dire Straits makes me think of that song “Romeo and Juliet” of theirs, and that makes me want to watch Empire Records again.

  • http://irisonbooks.wordpress.com Iris

    It sounds like a very difficult read and I’m not sure if I want to try and get past that at the moment. However, if you think I should read it, and I trust your recommendations, I’m going to try to someday!

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Well, if you like family tragedy books, this one’s a pretty good one, and it’s got good characters and everything. It’s really not that difficult! Only for a little while when you are not quite sure who the characters are yet.

  • http://theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com The Literary Omnivore

    What an odd premise- I’m glad it works, but I don’t think I’d pick this one up.

    And word on the Book Blogger Search Engine- it’s a thousand kinds of useful.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem like your usual fare. Very good though!

  • http://fyreflybooks.wordpress.com Fyrefly

    You had me at “boarding school book.” Seriously, I love that genre and would like to hear your theme song for that. Vlog time! :) (Also, your tags crack me up, which is not so good when I’m supposed to be working and not reading blogs.)

    Also, thanks for the plug! That’s one free unicorn ride for you.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Hahaha, nope, it is never vlog time for me. I’m shy. :p But I will accept the unicorn ride.

  • http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com Jeanne

    Unconstrained by resolutions, I flipped forth pretty copiously when I was reading this book! (http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com/2009/01/paying-attention-to-road-signs.html)
    I have a new one by her on my tbr pile: Finnikin of the Rock.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Yep, I have Finnikin of the Rock in my library bag too. That one’s definitely fantasy. Sorry I missed your review–I searched my Google Reader, I don’t know why yours didn’t come up. I feel like I always miss your reviews somehow, which sucks because I really enjoy them!

      • http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com Jeanne

        lots of people miss the early ones, because I didn’t use the title of the book as the title of the post

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I love books that have you racing through the pages to find out what happens to the characters, and although I know very little about this book, I am adding it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      You’re welcome! I bet you’d enjoy this one, too, it seems like you read lots of family tragedy type books.

  • http://michelle-says.blogspot.com Clover

    I was only going to skim your review as I have this book to read coming soon, and then I went and read the whole thing anyway. Depressing and lots of characters? I’m still excited but good to know about the confusion!

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Yeah, I kind of wish I’d known to anticipate some character confusion from the beginning. It’s just that there are four distinct groups of people to keep track of–the school kids, the Cadets, the Townies, and the kids from the past. The kids from the past were the ones that really gave me the trouble, because I kept forgetting which ones were related in what ways.

  • trapunto

    This sounds good to me, probably because it resonates. Dark gothic orphan’s boarding school was a favorite when I was organizing pretend games for my half-siblings and their friends. Since I was the oldest I was always the evil headmistress, and it usually came down to a showdown between Robocop and me. (The truth about being evil to orphans is that it gets a bit boring.) Is there an evil headmistress?

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      In retrospect it surprises me that my sisters and I didn’t do more boarding school games. My big sister wouldn’t have liked them, but me and my little sister and her friends would surely have loved them. Huh.

      • http://villanegativa.wordpress.com/ Trapunto

        Why wouldn’t your big sister have liked them?

      • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

        Oh, she just didn’t enjoy pretending games as much as my little sister and I did, unless she got to charge around with a lance all the time, or something. She liked climbing unbelievably high trees, or biking around the block playing bike tag with swimming pool noodles. My little sister and I were always much more into pretending-things games.

  • http://bkclubcare.wordpress.com Care

    Cracking up at your wonderful tags, as always. :)
    I third the appreciation for Fyrefly’s bookblogsearch.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Thanks. :) And yes! There can never be too much appreciation for the book blogs search.

  • http://emilyandherlittlepinknotes.com Emily and Her Little Pink Notes

    I loved this book so much, here it’s my review: http://emilyandherlittlepinknotes.com/2010/04/17/jellicoe-road-by-melina-marchetta/
    I also read Looking for Alibrandi which is completely different but just as good

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      Drat, sorry I missed yours! I will add it straight away.

      I don’t think I saw Looking for Alibrandi at my library. Is it fantasy like Finnikin of the Rock, or family-tragedy like Jellicoe Road?

  • http://thelittlereader.net lisa (the little reader)

    i have this book on my wishilist, as i work through the Printz winners. and, honestly, until reading your review, i had no idea what the book was about.

    it sounds more challenging than i was expecting of a YA book, but i’m intrigued.

    • http://readingtheend.com Jenny

      It’s really an excellent book. I’ve probably made it sound more challenging than it really is. Overall, it’s a perfectly accessible book, just with a lot of characters.

  • Jenny

    I LOVE this book. Any recommendations of similar books?

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  • http://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com rhapsodyinbooks

    Look at me, commenting on your blog years ago! And now I am back again! I just finished this book, and for the first 50 pages I was flipping back and forth a hundred times and going WTF?!!! And then suddenly it was clicking and it was wonderful and devastating and wow-ish. Must read more Marchetta!!!!