On the Jellicoe Road

On the Jellicoe Road

Melina Marchetta

Publisher: Penguin

RRP $19.95

290pp

Category: Young Adult Fiction

When Taylor Markham was eleven years old, her mother left her at the 7/11 store on the Jellicoe Road. “The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where the trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La.”  She was picked up and taken to the Jellicoe School by Hannah, who has looked after her since then. From that day on, Taylor has wondered who her mother really is…

Six years later Taylor becomes the leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School, and leads them in the secret territory wars between the Townies, the Cadets, and the Jellicoe boarders.  The wars take place in September every year when the Cadets come down from Sydney to take part in an outdoor education program. This year the leaders are Taylor (Jellicoe), Chaz Santangelo (Townies), and Jonah Griggs (Cadets), but just as she becomes leader, Hannah disappears, leaving behind a mysterious manuscript. As Taylor reads the manuscript, and dreams of a boy in a tree, she begins to realise that Hannah’s story is inextricably linked to her own. The manuscript tells the story of five children growing up on the Jellicoe Road. Twenty years earlier, tragedy had brought these five children together. They dreamt of their futures – growing old together in a house on the Jellicoe Road – they dug secret tunnels, and they began the territory wars.

Meanwhile, Taylor has fallen for Jonah Griggs “who will change the way I breathe for the rest of my life.” As leader of the Cadets, however, he is off limits. They have a complicated history, having run away together when they were fourteen. Taylor was running to find her mother, and Jonah was running from something he did to his abusive father. But Jonah got scared and turned them in last time. Will he be able to save her now that he has returned? The end of the novel sees Taylor come full circle, as she begins writing a journal of her own history, just as Hannah has done previously. There is also a lovely parallel between the five children who began the turf wars twenty years earlier, and the five children that make up Taylor’s story.

This is Marchetta’s third novel, and by far the most complex to date. The structure of the book is complicated, jumping from past to present, and is told from many different perspectives. It is a book about loss, abandonment, friendship, dreams, the struggles of growing up, and hope. Although there are some dark moments, it is often told with humour. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and at the end of the novel, are hopeful of a brighter future. Like many readers before me, I struggled with the first half of this book but it was definitely worth persevering as things became much clearer the more I read. I think it actually warrants a second read straight away and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it even more the second time. Like the other two of Marchetta’s novels I have read (Looking for Alibrandi, and Saving Francesca), I love the sense of place in the novel. Although the characters could easily be placed in other countries in the world, for me this book has a distinctly Australian feel – from the Jellicoe houses which are all named after Australian rivers, to the squalor of Kings Cross in Sydney, and the fictional country town of Jellicoe.

This is a tough, gritty, tragic story, but also one of hope because, as Taylor notes at the end of the book, “life goes on.”

8.5/10

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