Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Plot Summary: Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

I picked up a copy of this because it one the Printz award. Until it won, I hadn’t heard of it. The libraries didn’t even have a copy yet. So I picked one up, then settled down to read.

For the first two chapters, I had no idea what was going on. I’m a very determined reader, and it’s rare that I set aside a book without finishing. Especially so early in the beginning. But, if this book hadn’t won the Printz, I would have set it aside. It was hurting my head trying to sort everything out – and I love a intricate and twisty plot, so this is saying something.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The story opens with two separate stories being told at the same time. Taylor’s story was clearly the main story, and it took me three chapters to figure out that the other story was even a story. Then, it took a few more chapters to figure out that this second story is where the “wars” came from, and that it started among friends as a fun thing to do. This information would have helped me tremendously in the beginning. Instead, we’re dropped into a hostile environment where everyone knows the intricacies of a vicious and violent territory war.

I get that the author was staying within Taylor’s head, and not “telling” us what she knows. Rather, she attempted to show us by showing us the situation and characters. It gave me a clear picture of the characters, but I was confused about the situation for a long time.

First confusing point: Taylor is the head of her House (dorm) at the Jellicoe boarding school. And, Taylor is made the school’s leader in the territory wars. It took me forever to sort out the difference between them, and what each role entailed.

Next confusing point: I had no idea who Hannah was, or how important she was to Taylor until well into the book. A little bit of pondering on Taylor’s part would have helped this a lot. All she would have had to do was wonder whether Hannah was her legal guardian, since she sometimes acted like it and sometimes not. That would have made their relationship clear from the start.

Once the story gets going and these things are made clear, however, it’s gripping. Taylor sometimes jumps to conclusions a bit too easily and quickly, but her character is still strong and likable. She’s on a self-exploring journey, and we’re along for the ride.

In the end, all the plot points are tied together nicely. But not in a neat little package – the ending is realistic and enjoyable. The only thing that seemed plot device-y was the serial killer, and how he was tied to Taylor.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book, despite the confusing beginning, and worth the read.


Unknown said...

*covers eyes*

Haven't read this one yet, either!!! ARGH! You're always ahead of me :P

Bish Denham said...

You must be a fast reader! I envy that ability. When I visit I almost always come away with another book to add to my humongous list. ("How will I ever read them all?" She sighs. "One book at time, one book at a time."

Mary Witzl said...

The first part of your review made me want to give this a miss, but by then I read the ending and changed my mind. (I like intricate plots too, as you will soon see...) So now I've got another book to add to my list and how in the world am I going to get through them all? Still, I can think of hundreds of other things I'm less inclined to attempt...

Meg Wiviott said...

Oh! I couldn't agree more!!

It took me a good 100 pages before I began to understand what was going on. And then, I couldn't put the book down. Problem is, if it hadn't won the Printz, I would have put it down. If I were a kid, I wouldn't have cared what it'd won, I would have put it down.

One thing at the end I still didn't get - SPOILER ALERT - how did Taylor figure out that Fitz shot Webb? That came out of nowhere. I had to go back and re-read 30 pages and I STILL couldn't figure out how she knew.

Stacy Nyikos said...

This sounds like an interesting read. It reminds me a little of one I've got on my reading table now, The Lucky Place by Zu Vincent. It's about a girl abandoned at the horse race track. Why do you think it is that Jellicoe Road won the Prinz if the beginning was so confusing? That sounds like an editorial issue that would make it hard for a book to win any awards.

Tabitha said...

Beth - LOL! Sorry. I'll, um, try to slow down for ya. :)

Bish - yeah, I read pretty fast. Always have, though when I was a kid I had to be interested right away. Otherwise I was the slowest reader on the planet. :)

Mary - intricate plots really get my juices flowing. And my juices were definitely flowing by the end of Jellicoe Road. :) So, yeah, this is probably a book you'd like. :)

Meg - I was wondering the same thing! In some cases, Marchetta is stellar at building plot and connecting dots. But there are times when she's not so good. That was one of them. And I think you're absolutely right that kids will put this book down no matter what awards it's won.

Stacy - that sounds like an interesting book. Think I'll add it to my list - thanks for mentioning it! :) As for Jellicoe winning the Printz, I've been wondering that myself. The beginning was so off-putting that I was surprised at this choice. It all becomes clear in the end, but I don't think the end justifies the means. I thought some of the honor books were more worthy, like Frankie Landau-Banks. I don't know. Obviously someone saw something in it, and I just don't see it. :)

Martha Flynn said...

I have a friend who, bless her, kind of "looks down" on general fiction and thus really looks down on genre fiction and then even more so on children's/ya fiction, but I knew this story was convoluted enough that she'd like it. Sure enough - she did! I think she likes to feel like she is "working" while she reads. Sorry for overusing quotations! It's so eaaarly where I am I shouldn't even be posting cuz my brain isn't on.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

You have such great reviews. THANK YOU!

Meg Wiviott said...

Tabitha - I have to admit that I was relieved to read your review. I started doubting myself as I was reading JELLICOE ROAD. It won the Printz for gosh sakes and I couldn't make heads or tails out of it! And I LOVE books that challenge me. I LOVE books that make me think.

The story is good, and the end brings most of the threads together, but I agree, I don't think the end justifies the means.

Jacqui said...

I loved this book. I understand your point about the beginning, but I tend to be someone who likes having to figure things out. I just finished Marchetta's Saving Francesca, which was wonderful and less complicated plot-wise, and which I recommend.

On page 283, when the kids find Fitz jumping out of the tree, he says he went back for the fifth tin, which he'd missed earlier. Then he says he shot and heard a noise that sounded just he is sounding when he falls out of the tree. It's subtle, but it's there.

C.R. Evers said...

Thnx for the tip. I usually lose patience if a book doesn't grab me in the first couple of chapters. If I ever read this book I'll be sure to hang on!


Meg Wiviott said...

Jacqui - That's so subtle, I missed it. I remember reading that part, but gosh... So did Webb's body fall into the river? Did they find it when they were dredging? Did Fitz realize right away what he'd done? Too many open ends for me. That said, I did enjoy the book.

Tabitha said...

Martha - LOL!!! Oh that is just too funny! :)

Glam - thanks! Glad you like them! :)

Meg - I skimmed some reviews on Amazon, too, and nearly all of them commented on how confusing the beginning was. Even the reviews that gave it five stars.

Jacqui - I *loved* Saving Francesca. It's sitting on my Favorites shelf. Jellicoe Road was so different, and I love that about the author. I get bored if an author writes the same kind of thing over and over again, so I will definitely keep reading Ms. Marchetta's stuff. Cause, clearly, she's gonna surprise me. :)

Christy - if you do read it, I hope you'll come back to share! :)

Meg and Jacqui - I remember that now. She read it in the manuscript, right? Fitz kept throwing himself into the water because that was the sound Webb made when he hit. I thought it was in the other story, but it was in the manuscript.

Hmm, this reminds me of another sort of issue I had with the story. Taylor seems to believe that these characters are real just a little too easily. As well as who her father was. But it didn't kill the story for me, just gave me a slight pause. :)

Christina Farley said...

Hmm. Sounds interesting. How do you read so fast? I wish I could zip through books but I just don't seem to find the time. Sigh.

Meg Wiviott said...

I am definitely going to add more of Ms. Marchetta's books to my TBR pile. She writes beautifully.

Tabitha said...

Christina - I carry a book around with me, so whenever I've got a spare minute, I read. :)

Meg - *definitely* read Saving Francesca. It's a good one. :)

Barrie said...

I was glad to read this review because, unlike you, I am not a determined reader.

Tabitha said...

:) This is definitely a good book. If you end up reading it, I think you'll be glad.