Brian Kelley's Reviews > Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
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Apr 21, 2013

it was amazing

Taylor Markham asks, "What's the difference between a trip and a journey?"

The answer offered is, "When we get there, you'll understand."

A few weeks ago I spent six hours in a car with a man I didn't know. Heading to the same conference, we carpooled. Six hours is a lot of time to talk about experiences, teaching, reading, and writing. One moment of the conversation resonates with me--we talked about the books we read.

We each had read Marilyn Robinson, but not the same novel.

We each had read some contemporary authors at the top of their game: Phillip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, Cormac McCarthy--just to name a few. But, again, our reading stars didn't align. We hadn't read much in common.

And then I mentioned I also read a lot of YA literature--to keep pace with my students, to have recommendations, to be able to have conversations about the books they care about. I related a story of a girl stopping by my desk because she saw (on my sign outside my classroom door) that I was reading Crank by Ellen Hopkins. She wanted to talk about it because she had read it too.

While the teacher-student effort wasn't diminished, the nature of YA literature was with a "what are these books with slick plots that kids can slide right through with no challenge..." Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.

For all intents and purposes, that is what I heard over the last few hours--I tuned him out.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta made tears well up in my eyes.

Marchetta took the loving friendships of five adolescents and wove them into a sort of Gordian Knot for the main character, Taylor Markham.

Abandoned by her mother, a relapsing addict, at a 7-Eleven, Taylor is raised in a house on the fringe of a private high school. Her guardian, Hannah, is writing a novel about five adolescents. Taylor reads it in pieces..sometimes at the behest of Hannah. Initially, Taylor does not realize that the novel is actually Hannah's story...and Taylor's mother's story...along with their friends who also attended this very same school on the Jellico Road.

More than a coming-of-age novel, this is story about relationships in all of their forms...and the fact that relationships are hard. Even the easy ones carry some hardness.

I love the fact that friends keep coming back for one another--friends keep fighting for one another--and friends always find common ground and forgiveness for each other.

Simply put, Jellicoe Road is gritty YA novel which holds friendship and loyalty supreme. I found the message moving and as relevant as anything I might pick up by Colum McCann, Junot Diaz, or Jennifer Egan. (Although I would like to place "A Visit from the Goon Squad" into my reading pile!)

You don't need to be fourteen to be moved by this book. And you don't need to be fourteen to read a novel that teaches the reader a little something about friendship.
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