Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – Review by Janelle Fila
Jellicoe Road weaves multiple stories in a non-linear fashion, jumping around so that the reader never quite knows the complete story until the book’s closing pages.
The first story is the contemporary tale of Taylor Markham during her life at boarding school on the Jellicoe Road. Within the story’s first few pages, Taylor is elected to lead a continuing territory war against the Townies and Cadets, who fight over landmarks and areas their respective groups are allowed to inhabit. Taylor has street cred as was the only person ever spoken to by The Hermit, who took Taylor’s hand and whispered in her ear before committing suicide in front of her. The other leaders are just as tough and feared by their respective groups. Chaz Santangelo, the son of Jellico’s Chief of Police, leads the Townies. Jonah Griggs leads the Cadets. This complicates the already tricky feud as the handsome cadet leader and Taylor have history.
As the story progresses, the reader learns that Taylor’s mother abandoned her at a 7/11 when she was eleven years old. Taylor is picked up by her guardian angel, Hannah, who brought the young girl to the school where she worked on Jellicoe Road. Taylor has lived at the school for troubled and abandoned teens ever since. When Taylor attempts to leave school and track down her drug-addicted mother, she stumbles upon Jonah Griggs at the train station as she waits for the train out of town. Jonah joins Taylor’s escape attempt after a spark of instant chemistry. Taylor is taken by Jonah’s sad eyes and puts her fragile trust in his hands. When the Cadet’s adult leader, The Brigadier, shows up a few days later to bring the teenagers home, Taylor blames Jonah for ruining her chance to find her mother. She swears she will never forgive him.
At Jellicoe Road, Hannah has disappeared, leaving only her unfinished manuscript behind. The second story begins as Taylor (and the reader) reads Hannah’s scrambled story about a car crash on Jellicoe Road. When the parents are killed, the teens in the car find themselves all alone. A boy from town stumbles across the wreck and promises never to abandon the children. Later, hiding in the woods, the orphaned children catch the eye of one of the Cadet’s, who promises to return and spend time with the eclectic group. The cadet lives up to his promise, staying with the children so much that he becomes part of the fused “family.”
Another thread woven into the story is a reference to a serial killer kidnapping two children at a time through the area. As children are kidnapped closer and closer to home, the students become more nervous, trying to guess the serial killers identity. One of the students suggests that The Brigadier would make a good serial killer and warns Taylor to watch herself whenever she is near the Cadet leader.
As the story progresses and more clues are revealed, the reader learns more about Taylor’s past and her mysterious connection to Hannah’s account of the children living in hiding on Jellicoe Road. But with Hannah missing, Taylor can’t get answers to the burning questions she has about her mother and the single memory she has about her father, standing on his shoulders as she reaches for the sky. Taylor recruits help from Chaz and Jonah, who momentarily put aside their differences to delve into the mystery that includes the school, Jellicoe Road, the Townies, and the Cadets. Taylor is searching for answers about her family as well and she won’t stop until she discovers the truth. She hopes that will lead her to her mother, a woman she longs to meet even after all these years.
Jellicoe Road is a beautifully written story that is full of the stress and issues that many teenagers find themselves dealing with. The mystery niggles in the back of the mind because they reader never quite knows the characters’ motivations and which characters to trust. Although the stories are mixed up and out of order, they all tie together into a very satisfying ending. Jellicoe Road is worth reading to the very end, the story making more sense as the reader continues along. This was an excellent mystery, love story, and tale of family and friendship. I highly recommend it for teens and adults alike.
Janelle Fila is an avid writer, reader, student, wife, and mom. Her favorite YA authors are John Green, Sara Zarr, and Jennifer Mathieu. She enjoys reading engaging YA fiction where smart kids overcome bullying and come to know their authentic self. She writes middle grade and contemporary YA and is currently working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Spalding University. Check out her website www.janellefila.com for more information about where to find her work or to connect with her on social media.