Marchetta, Melina. On the Jellicoe Road (2008). 432 Pages. HarperTeen.
From the Author’s Website
“What do you want from me?” he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
Taylor Markham is not a popular choice. She is erratic, has no people skills and never turns up to meetings. Not to mention the incident when she ran off in search of her mother and only got halfway there. But she’s lived at Jellicoe School most of her life and as leader of the boarders that’s her greatest asset. Especially now the cadets, led by the infamous Jonah Griggs, have arrived. The territory wars between the boarders, townies and cadets are about to recommence.
But Taylor has other things on her mind: a prayer tree, the hermit who whispered in her ear, and a vaguely familiar drawing in the local police station. Taylor wants to understand the mystery of her own past. But Hannah, the woman who found her, has suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing but an unfinished manuscript about five kids whose lives entwined twenty years ago on the Jellicoe Road.
My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father had said that it was about time the four of us made that journey.
I’d heard about this book. Several times, actually, as book blogs I follow (such as Jenny’s Books and Chachic’s Book Nook, among many others) had taken the time to review it and sing its praises. But I never got around to picking it up. Sure, it had been on my radar, and I’d considered it once or twice, but never actually made a move. And then I had an epically terrible week made up of a million small things which I could have dealt with if it had not all happened at once, and I just needed to read something and the title was teasing me and before I knew it I was reading On the Jellicoe Road and all my frustration and anger sort of faded into the background. Only good books do that.
I started reading it this morning, and about four hours later, I’d torn through the whole thing. Aside from one or two breaks to wipe my eyes, I didn’t put it down for long. I couldn’t.
The story is told from Taylor Markham’s perspective, but it is not just her story she tells. Entwined with her own tale is Hannah’s manuscript, and the mystery of her mother’s past, among others. We learn about Taylor, and Hannah, and Jonah, and the lives of those who inspired Hannah’s manuscript.
I can’t say a lot without giving it away, and I really think that would do a disservice to the novel. There are pieces which fit together intricately, and though you can see the vague shape of the plot, it isn’t until the bits start snapping in place that the story sharpens and you realize the magnitude of it. There’s enough foreshadowing that an astute reader will piece it together early, but not so much as to show the entire hand before the end.
The pacing is excellent; one thing happens after another and you find yourself pulled in by the story and it never quite lets go or gives you a chance to breathe. But somehow it works, and you don’t find yourself wanting it to slow down, because there’s just too much more that you haven’t had a chance to discover yet.
And the characters. Might I just say that I love Jonas? Because he’s easily one of my favorite male characters. There’s so much to him, and he’s such a perfect foil for Taylor and her multitude of issues.
And Taylor. There are not words for what I want to say about her. She’s a survivor, and she doesn’t know it. She’s smart and strong and people look up to her because she’s a natural leader and she never quite grasps that about herself. But it doesn’t matter because everyone else sees it.
She is a girl who’s been through so much that she doesn’t entirely remember her past because some of it is so terrible that she’s blocked it out, who’s desperately trying to pull herself together and survive Hannah’s sudden and inexplicable departure. She’s left reeling by a betrayal by the one person she had thought would never betray her, and she’s got too much on her plate, but she gets through it just like she’s gotten through everything else in her life.
I think I may have said more about this book than I have said about any of the others that I reviewed in the last two years, and there’s still so much more to say. But I won’t, because I think you should read it.
I think this nearly goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway; it’s a 5/5 in my eyes.