Friday, August 7, 2009

Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Jellicoe Road

Marchetta, Melina. JELLICOE ROAD. New York: HarperTeen, 2008. ISBN 9780061431845.

Meet Taylor Markham. When she was eleven, her mother dropped her off on Jellicoe Road and never came back. Now she’s 18, a tough survivor, and trying to figure out the puzzling pieces of her life. Why did Hannah disappear and is the manuscript she left behind fact or fiction? Who is the mysterious Brigadier who seems to show up at the exact times when the last thing Taylor wants is adult interference? Is Jonah Griggs her future or her enemy? What secrets do Sergeant Santangelo and his son know about Taylor’s past? And who is the mysterious boy in the tree who persists in appearing in Taylor’s dreams? Told by Taylor in first person alternating with excerpts from Hannah’s manuscript, we follow Taylor on her journey of discovery as she and Jonah travel to Sidney to look for her mother and the answers to Taylor’s questions. Along the way, Taylor learns the joys and fears of loving somebody else and what it means to become a responsible, caring adult. The story is set in Australia sometime between the year 2000 and the present, and one of the recurring themes is how Taylor connects a song from the 80’s with the father she never knew. Some of the colloquialisms and slang are Australian, but understandable in context to American readers. The storyline is confusing at first for two reasons: First is this story realistic fiction or fantasy because of the boy in Taylor’s dreams? Second, the frequent switches back and forth between Hannah’s story and Taylor’s story are confusing at first, but once the reader understands what’s happening, this problem disappears. At that point, we find ourselves really caring about what will happen to Taylor when she finds her answers. What Taylor ultimately discovers about her past is totally unexpected, but it will help both Taylor and Hannah ultimately resolve the past.

Awards and Honors:
• Best Books for Young Adults, 2009; YALSA American Library Association; United
• Best Young Adult Books, 2008; Kirkus; United States
• Kirkus Book Review Stars, August 1, 2008 ; United States
• Cybils, 2008 Finalist Young Adult Novels United States
• Michael L. Printz Award, 2009 Winner United States

Daniel Kraus (Booklist, Nov. 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 5))
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga.

Stephanie Petruso (VOYA, December 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 5))
Taylor Markham has been living at the Jellicoe School since her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. Taylor's whole life is a mystery to her-from what happened to her mother and who her father was to why certain people in town are so interested in her well-being. As the Jellicoe School students begin their annual territory wars with the Townies and military school cadets, Taylor is thrown together with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. Although they are sworn enemies, Taylor and Jonah have a history and find themselves drawn to one another. Together they begin to unravel the tragic story of the five teenagers who started the territory wars a generation before and how their lives are tightly linked with Taylor's own…. The interwoven lives of Taylor and the doomed teenagers from the past create a complex tale with some great twists that readers will not see coming. It is a great choice for more sophisticated readers and those teens who like multifaceted stories and characters.

Since this book is recommended for high school level or above because of the intense themes, this would be an excellent choice to read in a high school health class to discuss the negative aspects of drug abuse and/or teen pregnancy.

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