J’s Take on Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road cover

I believe the American title is Jellicoe Road and the original title is On the Jellicoe Road. This cover is the most unappealing cover to me. I’m not big on flowers as design elements and orange flowers are the absolute worst. Especially on book covers. It did not make a good first impression.

When I finished the book I was mad at it.

The non-spoily summary is: Taylor Markham is a teenager living in a boarding school after her mother abandoned her. And there’s a ‘war’ going on between the students, the locals, and a group of cadets who come for several weeks every year. And she finds out who she is and makes friends and blahdeblahblah.

This review is going to get increasingly spoiler-filled, so feel free to stop when you feel like you’ve been spoiled just the right amount.

There are two narratives running through the story. Taylor’s first person story and snippets from a manuscript her guardian is writing. At first I felt detached. The very first thing we get is a car crash with dead people, but it’s in the manuscript, so it doesn’t count? Then Taylor seems to do things without really knowing why she’s doing them or even how she’s feeling. At least that’s how it comes across to me as a reader. She’s in charge of her House now, even though she seems bad at it. And there’s a decided lack of adults around. Hannah, the woman who’s nominally her guardian and unofficially in charge of her House isn’t actually officially attached to the school. So when she disappears, it’s not like things are much different? And no adult comes in to fill her place. The kids seem oddly on their own a whole lot of the time. Especially considering these are Hogwarts-age kids we’re talking about. And they even have to do their own cooking!

So there’s this war between the students, the Townies, and the Cadets over territory. And the rules are convoluted. But mostly I was just confused. Why is there this war? Why do the adults not care? Taylor seems oddly surprised when some of the boys start physically fighting. What kind of war is it that that’s not part of the point of it? It’s just weird.

Meanwhile we have this whole other set of characters we’re supposed to keep track of, in this manuscript Hannah has been writing for over a decade. They’re all full of angst.

I can sort of see this book is well-crafted, in that we learn more about Taylor’s past bit by bit, as she learns it too. It’s a tough thing to pull off, authorially. (Although I do have some time/number quibbles. Suddenly a 17-hour drive is only 7 hours. And there’s a date thing that’s screwed up after that.)

But by the end, I was mad. Mad mad mad.

(Major spoilers now.)

Dead people everywhere and suicides and bleh bleh blecch. And adults that WON’T TELL HER THINGS. It’s sort of the worst combination of things in kid’s books. Those things show up everywhere and are hella annoying each and every time. I mean in kid’s books in general, but also in this book in particular!

And this phrase keeps running around in my mind when I think about this book, so I’ll go ahead and type it: I felt manipulated.

So I can see how some people might think it’s Teh Awesome. But I have a lot of trouble appreciating its craft when it annoyed the heck out of me and made me outright mad by the end.

I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads the moment I finished reading it. Though I was hesitant even then. I may yet go back and change it to 2.

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