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