Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta

Summary:  For years, a "war" has raged between the students at Jellicoe boarding school, the Townies, and the Cadets (in town for only six weeks a year) over property.  This year Taylor Markham, a girl mysteriously brought to the school as a child, is the leader of Jellicoe School and Jonah Griggs, a boy who Taylor ran off with in hopes of finding her mother three years ago, is the leader of the Cadets.  As old tensions rise between the new leaders, Taylor is further hurt when Hannah, a caretaker at the school, disappears.  Through Hannah's writings, which remained behind, Taylor learns about five best friends who lived there many years ago.  As Taylor struggles with her relationships and her desire to know her past, she finds more and more connections between herself and those around her.

Musings: Looking at other blogs, I've found this book tends to inspire extreme reactions: in all the blog posts I saw about it, bloggers either adored the book or couldn't finish it.  And after finishing it myself, I can completely understand both responses.

The first half (perhaps even two-thirds) of the book I found difficult to get through.  In a novel of mysteries there's always a fine line between confusing the reader and keeping up suspense, and I'm not sure the book is always successful.  The novel switches between Taylor's point of view and Hannah's writings about the five friends, and while it was clear there was a connection, I had a hard time remembering sufficient pieces to connect them together.  In fact, I could not remember who was who among the five friends until nearly the end of the novel.

More significantly, I simply could not connect with Taylor.  I had no grasp of who she was and what she wanted.  In fact, throughout the entire book, she never seemed like a real person to me.  She is almost constantly overwhelmed by emotion, and her inability to have any "normal" kind of existence made her feel foreign.  Her relationships were even more inexplicable.  I found her relationships with Hannah and the other students unclear.  Nearly all the relationships in the book are guided by intense undying passion, which has always kind of irked me in books.  Some people do move on, but apparently no one in Jellicoe Road does.

The war between the three sides added extra confusion to the story.  It wasn't clear whether the war was serious or not and what the purpose really was.  I was happy when it became a significantly less important part of the story.

But, I'll admit, I was eventually drawn into the book.  I think it was when the relationships between people were finally acknowledged, even haltingly, and some pieces of the puzzle began to fall together.  There's something about the relationship between Taylor and Jonah that's appealing, even though I still scoffed at the fervor which accompanied it and every other bond between characters.

This is definitely not a book for everyone.  It's furtive, hazy, and emotional with characters who are intense feelings rather than people.  But there's a unique story and mystery here and a romance that will definitely attract some readers.  Overall I prefered Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock, but I think there's something about the book that will echo with me for awhile.

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