Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Scout's first romp in snow.
A white Christmas is normal for Maine, but a white Halloween? A blizzard hit the northeast last weekend, robbing three million homes of power (our lights just flickered). We had a busy weekend preparing for early winter, and my back still aches from stacking logs and storing garden furniture.

Luckily my son’s play wasn’t cancelled, but I didn’t let him drive into the storm alone with his new license. Taming of the Shrew went very well, and he was hilarious in the comic role of Hortensio. Of all of Shakespeare's plays, this romantic comedy of domestic abuse fails to charm me, even though the kids did a great job with it.

Today my son's Mock Trial team is presenting an imaginary case to a real judge. My son will drive himself into school, to court and back home. This new stage of freedom feels as jarring and as exciting as the first day of kindergarten.

On the topic of coming of age stories, this week I’m reviewing a young adult novel for the book club. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta won the Printz Award in 2009 and continues to stir controversy today. Some reviewers claim that its unconventional literary style is too complex and hard for teens to follow. Yet others embrace Jellicoe Road as the book that changed their life as a teenager.

Jellicoe Road is realistic fiction, but the remote Australian location feels like another world. The story is Dickensian with a touch of dystopia (like Lord of the Flies.) Taylor was abandoned at a state-run boarding school. The students are engaged in a border skirmish with the townies and visiting cadets. Play escalates to violence due to the lack of adult supervision. The closest Taylor has to a parent is her dorm monitor, and Hannah has disappeared mysteriously.

Taylor searches through Hannah’s work-in-progress for clues. She begins to suspect that the manuscript isn’t entirely fiction. There are hints to her own past as well if only she could follow the narrative. The unnumbered pages are out of order with chunks missing. The reader is equally baffled as excerpts from Hannah’s manuscript are interspersed through the real time narrative.

The plot comes together like a fragmented dream. The seventeen-year-old characters are wonderful: headstrong Taylor, charismatic Jonah of the cadets and Santangelo, a half Aborigine from town. I got caught up in the entertaining narrative and didn’t mind following it through the thorny underbrush, into dead-end tunnels and down circuitous paths. When we reached the final destination, I was satisfied but sorry for the book to end.

I’d strongly recommend Jellicoe Road to discerning readers of all ages. This innovative book would be an inspiration for writers too. Young adult literature is pushing fiction into unexplored territories.

Disclosure: I bought an ebook of Jellicoe Road without compensation. It was so good that I then bought a hard copy for my library. The warring puppies at play are my golden retriever and her pug buddy, Guinness. No puppies were harmed for this post.

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@Barrie Summy


tina said...

It seems awfully early on a blizzard! The dogs are too cute. They are at least a few who enjoy the snow.

A Cuban In London said...

Thank you very much for your kind words on my blog. No need to apologise, I knew you'd be tied up with the snow. The whole thing was uncanny to say the least. I caught up with the story online via the NYT.

"I was satisfied but sorry for the book to end."

Oh, I recognise the feeling indeed! Yes, it sounds like Jellicoe is the type of book I would have enjoyed as a teenager. Sometimes literature for the younger generation can come across as too predictable, because the author is not quite sure whether they'll be able to get the references or follow the plot through. I like writers who take chances and it looks as if Melina did exactly that. I'll probably look it up on amazon for my son. He's just started the Twilight series.

Greetings from London.

Bee said...

I'm working on a curriculum of dystopic novels -- and it is really helpful to find a title that I'm unfamiliar with. You are not one for dispensing praise indiscriminately, so I take your positive reviews seriously!

White Halloween: Can't imagine it! We've had more glorious days in October than we had in August. You know what England is like.

☆sapphire said...

I was really surprised at the news of the blizzard on TV. Take care, Sarah. On the contrary, strangely, we have had very warm weather here in autumn; it has been too warm.
And thank you for your review on "Jellicoe Road". I love to read coming of age stories. "dystopia" and "The plot comes together like a fragmented dream" sound very intriguing!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

A lot going on in your neck of the woods! I can't even imagine a blizzard--we're still slapping mosquitoes down here!

This book sounds intriguing, for both the premise, and your description of the writing style. I'm convinced! Thanks for the review!

Ellen Booraem said...

I've heard a lot about this book, but you might just have toppled me into reading it, Sarah. Sounds very intriguing.

khaki said...

I can't believe the snow. That is crazy. I was just commenting on someone else that had snow as well. Hard to imagine as I sit here with 87 degree days.... The puppy photos are precious! Interesting book- I am intrigued. I will have to get it. Thanks for reviewing it.

My husband just said a cold front is blowing in tonight- I am sure nothing compared to might get as "low" as 60 I am sure. =) but to me, that's UGG weather, and I love my UGGs. Wait all year to wear em'.

Donna said...

I still can't get over how crazy that storm was. I'm glad I wasn't back East to experience it!
I'm glad your son's play went well. I'm so afraid of the day my oldest will start driving! Fortunately it's about ten years away.

Barrie said...

I am pleased to say I already own this book. Which means I can scoot it to the top of my TBR pile. ;) Thanks for reviewing! Oh, and I have a child with a learner's permit.

troutbirder said...

After three weeks with the grands in Arizona I'm just playing catch-up blogging. Your recent posts were just great and the puppy is absolutely adorable. My first hunter was a lab/golden mix. What fun for you son. Drivers licence, great play and mock trial. I love that play. Advised mock trial in high school, history day in middle school and in "classroom without walls took high school student to Europe 3 times. Taming Of The Shrew was a highlight at the Barbicon in London... :)

David Cranmer said...

You have the greatest pics, Sarah. And my back still aches from preparing for the white Halloween too.

Thanks for the review.

Beth Kephart said...

I love everything about this post (the last line, too). And I love your support of an unconventional teen book. We need, I think, to keep believing in their powers as readers.

Amanda Summer said...

love those floppy deer ears on scout~

sounds like you're getting a bit more comfortable with your son driving, especially if you're letting him venture out in the snow - congrats on the production of 'shrew' turning out so well!

interesting comment by reviewers stating jellicoe road is too complex and hard for teens to follow - as if all teens are alike. isn't it nice when a book comes along that raises the bar for ya literature?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

There's not a better example of pure glee than a dog in snow. Especially for the first time.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina and Pamela, snow puppies are the best.

ACIL, I’d recommend Jellicoe Road to readers age 14 and up as there is some sexual content. The plot is much more complicated than Twilight too. I think you might enjoy it as well. Jellicoe Road does manage to be both timeless and current.

Bee and Sapphire, Jellicoe Road is much more realistic than dystopian, like Lord of the Flies. The kids create their own play universe, which is less than perfect.

Alyssa and Ellen, thanks I enjoyed your reviews too. I’d love to hear your reactions to Jellicoe.

Kacky, we wear shorts and t-shirts when it hits 60 but save the Uggs for sub freezing weather. Do we live in the same country? Ha! Do let me know what you think of Jellicoe Road.

Donna, you’ll be amazed how quickly your little boys will grow up.

Barrie, thanks for hosting. I know you’ll love Jellicoe Road.

Troutbirder, welcome back! Your students were lucky.

David, hard to believe the 60 degree weather today after the storm. I'm wishing the deck furniture was still out.

Beth, cheers to that!

Amanda, now you know why I keep my pup out of the woods during deer hunting season. Just like we need easy reads for reluctant readers we also need intellectually challenging books that are still fun for advanced readers. In the past those kids moved onto adult literary fiction and subject that they might not be ready for yet.

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for your comments, Sarah. Sorry the clip did not upload. It's happened to me before and I thought it was only a phenomenon that occurred in the UK. I never thought it could happen to someone in the States.

Greetings from London.