Marchetta, Melina. Jelicoe Road. HarperTeen, 2008, 432 pages. Tr., $17.99. ISBN: 0061431834
Plot: Taylor Markham is a girl who must unravel several mysteries at once. Why did her mother abandon her years ago on the Jellicoe Road? Why has Hannah, her surrogate mom, disappeared? Who is the strange man lurking around? Why is she having these haunting dreams? What is going on in the odd, stream-of-consciousness manuscript that Hannah left behind? Now that the cadets, all boys, have descended on Taylor’s all-girl boarding house, how can she best them in their territorial battles? And why is that Jonah so maddening, and so compelling? And how does all of this connect to a twenty-year-old tragedy on the Jellicoe Road?
Taylor has to work out all these loose ends at the same time. At a pivotal moment in a girl’s life, she must solve the mysteries that could block her from happiness. Now that Jonah is here, will he make her job easier or more difficult?
Critical Evaluation: In this powerful novel, Melina Marchetta weaves together an intricate part, some of which is in the form of a sinister dream. Marchetta’s characterization is most developed with Taylor, a prickly, tough girl that the others look up to for leadership. An ambitiously plotted YA novel, Marchetta needs to weave together threads of the present and the past while keeping her eye on the future, and this is no mean feat. At first, the unfamiliar world of the girls’ boarding school, with a combination of town girls and girls who are placed there by the government, can be as strange and disconcerting as the dream and manuscript, but the story gives a reader a stronger bedrock of plot as the story moves forward.
At the beginning, it’s easy to doubt that the writer can pull this off, but she does. This is a powerful story about keeping a hurtful past from determining a young person’s future.
Reader’s Annotation: Years ago, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road and now her Taylor’s surrogate mom has disappeared, she must solve a haunting mystery. Now that Jonah’s back, the question is whether he is going to help her or hurt her.
Author bio: Formerly a history and Italian language teacher, Australian Melina Marchetta was born in Sydney, Australia, and taught at a school for boys. Her first book, Looking for Alibrandi, was published in 1993, and Marchetta wrote the screenplay for a popular film adaptation of the novel.
First published as On the Jellicoe Road, Marchetta’s third novel won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. After writing a fantasy series, her latest book is a follow up to an earlier realistic novel, Saving Francesca.
Genre: Mystery, suspense
Curriculum Ties: Curriculum Ties: California Content Standards: Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.2 Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.
3.3 Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, the author’s style, and the “sound” of language achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes or both.
Reading Level: sixth grade
Interest Age: 14 and up
Challenge Issues: sexual content, language, violence
Challenge Response: 1) Documentation about collection policy. 2) Have positive reviews, such as this one, handy: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/melina-marchetta/jellicoe-road/#review
Why Included: A Printz Award-winner. Teens are always seeking mysteries. This is a dense one, not for the struggling reader, but it’s beautifully written and all of the hard work of trying to figure out what’s going on pays off. Readers looking for a challenge love it.