June 05, 2010

Into my heart, an air that kills... (Review: Jellicoe Road)

Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta
Harper Teen

My father took one hundred and thirty two minutes to die. 
‘I counted. 
‘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 kilometres away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,” and that was the last thing he ever said. 
‘We heard her almost straight away. In the other car, wedged into ours so deep that you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. She told us her name was Tate and then she squeezed through the glass and the steel and climbed over her own dead – just to be with Webb and me; to give us her hand so we could clutch it with all our might. And then a kid called Fitz came riding by on a stolen bike and saved our lives. 
‘Someone asked us later, “Didn’t you wonder why no one came across you sooner?” 
‘Did I wonder? 
‘When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe Road like they’re some kind of garbage, don’t you know? 
‘Wonder dies.’
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

This book has been highly recommended all over the blogosphere and you don't have to look far to read someone or other raving about it's sheer wonderfulness. I am afraid that I am going to be super dull and do exactly the same.  Read it and I think you will find that I am also super right.

While the prologue (above) grabbed me straight away with it's tragic setup and beautiful writing, I initially was a bit thrown by the sudden jump to 22 years later and a strange school full of students preparing for battles with Townies and Cadets. I had no idea what was going on. Melina Marchetta has a real gutsiness to her writing and takes no prisoners – the reader is thrown right into an already fully fledged world and it's a case of either get with the programme or jump ship (and yes, I am aware that I am mixing metaphors in a really dreadful manner). On top of that, the story segues between longer passages set in the present day and shorter passages filling out the story seen in the prologue. On reflection, this furious and erratic storytelling style shouldn't work, yet it really does.

Once I got over my initial giddiness, both stories (past and present) grabbed me and didn't let go. The story of 22 years previous is heart-breaking and beautiful at the same time.  It fits into the narrative structure by being a manuscript that the present day protagonist, Taylor,  is reading. It is not presented chronologically so it is easy to get caught up in the mystery of how these teens of decades past fit into to Taylor's current life. I figured out how the puzzle slotted together fairly early on in the book. However, I honestly think that this enhanced the story for me and it certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of it.

Character-wise, they are all winners. From tragic Narnie and loyal Jude to ebullient Fitz and beatific Webb,  the teens of the past drag you into their world and don't let go. I desperately wanted things to work out for them, even though their lives had already been damaged beyond recognition. In the present day, Taylor is one of the best female protagonists that I have come across recently. She has a fairly dry take on the world and doesn't always interact well with others when we first meet her, which is understandable given her unsettled personal history. Over the course of the book she develops in a completely believable manner,  slowly evolving in response to what is happening around her. Her friends Raffy, Ben and Santangelo are also all fascinating and often inject some much needed fun into what is essentially a pretty serious tale. Special shout-out to Santangelo, who is really quite, quite lovely. Then there is the brooding Jonah... Tough, yet caring, mature yet a also a broken little boy and above all loyal. Who wouldn't run away with him? 
The adults portrayed in the book are also exceptional in their three-dimensionality . Too often, adults in YA books are merely plot devices or exposition tools but not in Jellicoe Road. Hannah, Santangelo Snr. and the mysterious Brigadier are just as interesting as the younger characters (if not more so in some instances) and subtly illustrate that love isn't always enough to wipe the slate clean. I'd like to read more about them.

I cried more than once reading this book – it was impossible not to, particularly towards the end. Jellicoe Road is based around themes of loss, friendship and identity and how often the three are interlinked. Mostly, though, it is about solace and finding out where you “belong" or "long to be”, expressions which are used repeatedly and to great affect throughout this extremely beautifully written story. One for the permanent shelf, people, don't miss out.


Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting, and I like the character names! But you definitely have to be careful with prologues.

I'd like to do a review one day in my blog, but it's always hard for me to summarize and critique something that's not my own. At least in an insightful and witty way.

Carla said...

I am so pleased that you loved this book because it was truly amazing and maybe the best written book I have ever read. I love it so much and this review is wonderful!!

prophecygirl said...

I too am glad you loved this. It made me cry so much at the end, and your review is ace! :)

Splendibird said...

Carla and Jenny - thanks for the lovely comments. You two would have been in trouble if I hadn't liked it as it was both your reviews (and Adele's) that inspired me to pick it up, something I probably wouldn't have done otherwise...

Becky said...

What a deep review! I love thoughtful reviews like this where the reader looks for connections between themes, between the fluctuating movement of time in the narrative. Yep, I'm going to have to read this one. I wish I had been following you sooner.