Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Rating: 3 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "I'm dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs - the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother - who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road."

Review: First off, I should warn you that although one cat does make an appearance, there are tragically few jellicle cats on Jellicoe Road.


This book leaves me kind of speechless, and I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  Here are my thoughts:

I was eager to read this book because I'd heard so many wonderful things.  Everyone seemed to love it, and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

So I checked it out from the library and started reading.  

Cue: immense confusion.

I had no idea what was going on.  There's Taylor and Ben and Narnie and Hannah and Jessa and Jonah and Fitz and Jude and Webb and Tate and Santangelo and Raffy and the Brigadier and the Serial Killer and the Police Chief and the Territory Wars and the Purple Book and the cadets and the townies and the arsonists and the poppies and car accidents and child abandonment and some kind of magical realism with a boy in a tree that talks to Taylor in her sleep and about twenty other things going on that you're just plopped right smack in the middle of with no explanation or direction or anything to guide you.  

Usually in situations like this the reader can figure out what's going on, but I was really confused for a long time.  It was irritating.  I couldn't figure out what people liked about this story.  About fifty pages in I actually checked under the book jacket to see if it had accidentally been swapped with another book, and I was actually reading something other than the highly praised, award winning Jellicoe Road.

I wasn't.  It's just really confusing.  And irritating.  For about 150 pages.

So, clearly, the first half of the story was highly disappointing for me. 

I went to Twitter to ask if I should continue reading or put it down in favor of something else, and was encouraged to keep reading, so, begrudgingly, I did.

It's a good thing I did because my experience with the second half of the story was completely different.

It turns out that Marchetta had plopped her readers smack in the middle of not one but two stories.  Once I figured out that it wasn't a dual perspective thing, and which characters belonged in which story (more difficult than you might imagine since several characters belong in both stories) things started picking up.  After a while I started enjoying what I was reading.  The book became pretty good.

Then something amazing happened: it became great.

Like, we're talking breathtakingly, devastatingly, heart-breakingly great.

I ached for these characters.  I felt their pain.  I yearned for their happiness and reconciliation, and so badly wanted them to find peace.  There were certain sentences that ripped me to shreds with their poignancy and simplicity.  All the threads that drove me crazy for the first half of the book were beautifully woven together, and made for a deeply emotional and emotionally satisfying conclusion.  

I'm kind of shocked at how much I loved how this story ended.

Looking back, I still think that the first half was unnecessarily confusing.  Those lame territory wars were never very well set up, and didn't do much to progress the story.  It didn't need to by crystal clear, but it shouldn't have been that hard to figure out what was going on.

So I hated the first half and loved the second half.  I don't know how to reconcile these two experiences, so I awarded this book a perfectly mediocre 3 stars.  The truth is that no part of this book is mediocre.  It's either spectacular or horrible, depending on which part you're reading.  I don't know what to make of this book as a whole, but I'm glad I finished it.

Bottom Line: This book somehow managed to bore me to pieces and then absolutely break my heart.  It's worth slogging through the first half to get to the second half though!

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