Random Review: Jellicoe Road

It is astonishing how much tragedy the author was able to lay on this reader without losing me entirely.

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaJellicoe

Taylor Markham’s past is a mystery she has yet to solve. She was abandoned by her mother at age eleven on Jellicoe Road, and she’s spent every moment since holding the world at arm’s length. On the verge of adulthood, in the summer before her last year at the Jellicoe School, leadership is thrust upon her by the departing upperclassmen. Taylor will have to find a way to lead her school in defending their territories from the rival factions of Townies and Cadets with little support from her peers and the only familial figure she’s ever known suddenly vanished. As she unravels the story of her own origin, Taylor discovers the root of the Jellicoe rivalry and a lifeline to her future.

This is one of those books that I had picked up many times and put down without reading just as many. The red-orange poppy against the verdant background on the cover is eye-catching, and I had heard good things about it, but the blurb always left me cold. Now I understand why. This book is so unlike any I’ve ever read, with many plots running parallel to one another like meandering creeks and bubbling streams that all eventually feed into one crashing river. It defies blurbing. Taylor Markham is a living, breathing character who jumps off the page and smashes around being hard to love precisely because she needs it so desperately.  What’s more remarkable, the book is filled with a dozen or more characters just as vivid. Her struggle to lead and uncover her past is interspersed with the story of a group of five kids bound by tragedy who once lived at the Jellicoe School. The novel leaps more and more frequently between these three threads until they all come together into one painfully beautiful whole.

I honestly don’t think I could do it justice no matter how long I explain it, so I will try to sum up the feeling it gave me. The movie Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King novella The Body, is a story about youth and friendship and love and family and pain and grief and summertime. Jellicoe Road is a lot like that.

Chair Rating

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Random Review: It Started With a Dare

The cover looked fun, but the story was dumb.

It Started with a Dare by Lindsay Faith Rech

This girl looks like a lot more fun than the one I read about.

This girl looks like a lot more fun than the one I read about.

Tomboyish Cynthia Gene Silverman moves to a wealthy suburb, reinvents herself as CG, and find herself promptly absorbed into the ruling class of her new high school. Convinced that she has to stand out to fit in, CG constructs a tower of lies atop a foundation of poor decisions that will inevitably crush her. That’s pretty much it for plot.

This book is not even worth the energy I have already spent reviewing it. It reads as though written by a high-schooler and falls dully short of the melange of Mean Girls and Pretty Little Liars it was aiming for. CG is somehow desperate for approval from her peers even as she feels superior to them. She claims to be a nice person who has changed a lot into the lying, scornful, manipulative hussy we see by mid-novel, but since we meet her as CG and not Cynthia Gene there is no evidence that she was ever a decent person other than her own word. The dialogue is flat, the attempts to build tension fall limp, and it all seems more than a little far fetched. If the author had gone in a campy direction it might have worked, but she plays it straight while incorporating ridiculous plot elements like a fifteen-year old (who by all accounts has yet to “blossom”) being mistaken for a woman in her mid-20s in both online conversation and after face time in lingerie and a masquerade mask with a teacher she sees on a daily basis.

It is  pure fantasy. The fantasy of a nigh-unlikable girl who sees the world as beneath her even as she would like to plunder its riches. Her friends range from shabbily veiled tropes to cartoon villainesses, and despite CG’s (universally acknowledged) average-to-plain looks and hideous personality she has her choice of every male character with a name in the book.

Chair Review:

Someone thought it was cool, but it was distasteful on many levels.

Someone thought it was cool, but it was distasteful on many levels.

 

An Interesting Story About Women

Here is an interesting story rife with drama, complex characters, and plenty of moral gray area that features two women at its core. The women are not fighting over a man or doing anything in any way driven by one. The biggest male character is a lackey to the main female. The stakes are high, and the story is violent.