"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 - Jesus, did you?"
This quote belongs to Stephen King, but it describes the soul of Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road perfectly.Jellicoe Road is the story of friendships that form your world, friendships so wonderful that it's easy to fall to pieces when they break. It is the story of abandonment and loss and learning to deal with it. It is the story of love, intense to the extreme with the generous helping of teen angst. In short, it is an excellent example of a good quality YA book, emotional, intense, and lyrical.
"I remember love. It's what I have to keep on reminding myself. It's funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that's why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It's not the pain they're getting over, it's the love."
Here's a short synopsis: Taylor Markham was abandoned by her drug-addicted mother at age eleven. She is now 17, living in Jellicoe School, a boarding school full of state wards and troubled children. She is in charge of her House (50 girls) and is expected to lead a sixteen-year-old 'territory war' between the Jellicoe School kids, the 'Townies' and the Cadets who camp out in the area for a couple of months each year. All while having strange dreams and feeling abandoned by her caretaker Hannah. All while reading Hannah's unfinished novel about five teenagers in the 1980s who form very intense friendship bonds after the horrific car accident on Jellicoe Road when they were 11-12 years old.
Now, I have to say that not once did I look at this book as a mystery even though it's marketed as such. The central mystery of the story - well, I easily figured it out only a few chapters in, and the rest of the details easily came into light as the story developed. Not much took me by surprise; it was quite predictable, actually. But since the mystery was not why I enjoyed the story, the reading experience was perfectly fine. To use the book's own language, the whole mystery setup was not a trip but a journey. It was never about the resolution but about the emotional journey it took to get there.
"I remember asking, "What is the difference between a trip and a journey?" and my father said, "Narnie, my love, when we get there, you'll understand," and that was the last thing he ever said."
What I loved was the friendships that the 'old five' and the 'new five' have developed throughout the course of their respective stories. My favorite by far was between Taylor and Raffaela, with the developing friendship with annoying but adorable Jessa as a close second. Even though there was a romantic story threatening to take the foreground, it never overshadowed the rest of the story and the friendships, and I'm thankful for that.
"This is the best night of my life," Raffy says, crying.
"Raffy, half our House has burnt down," I say wearily. "We don't have a kitchen."
"Why do you always have to be so pessimistic?" she asks. "We can double up in our rooms and have a barbecue every night like the Cadets."
Silently I vow to keep Raffy around for the rest of my life.
I was quite emotionally affected (I'd say 'manipulated' if not for the negative connotation of that word) by the nostalgic atmosphere Marchetta creates here. The nostalgia for the beauty of childhood and adolescence, for the friendships of the kind that you can only have before you reach adulthood, for the safety of childhood (no matter how messed up it can be), for the safe haven of Jellicoe School for the lost and messed up children. I also loved Marchetta's excellent characterization. Her characters are well-developed and multi-dimensional, and feel quite real. That is not to say that there's no stereotyping or clichés, but those are kept to the minimum.
"These people have history and I crave history. I crave someone knowing me so well that they can tell what I'm thinking."
As for the voice of the novel - it is very emotional. Please be warned - it is emotional with the generous helping of teen angst. Oh, teen angst! It's on every page, in every sentence - just like it was so overwhelming when you were 16-17. Everything is intense, the tension is palpable, emotions are right on the surface. Reading this book is like experiencing being a teenager you once were. I found it to be a bit of eye-rolling experience initially (thankfully, I'm way out of the adolescence) but eventually the style grew on me and started to feel quite organic. But if you'd rather not deal with overexaggerrated raw teenage emotions - well, be warned and stay away from this story.
"What do you want from me?" he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
Now, here are the issues that I had with this book that forced me to knock off a star:
- The Territory wars. I thought that storyline was limping on both feet. Why all the intensity if the whole thing only takes place for about 2 months each year? Why the whole issue with the Club House when it's only a few weeks when it becomes relevant? Honestly, just setting up a rivalry between the 'factions' would have been enough for the story. Especially since about halfway through the story any of that territory stuff becomes completely irrelevant as nobody pays any attention to it anymore.
- Sometimes the emotional intensity slips into a blatant melodrama. I mean, there was actually a remark on how intense Taylor and Jonah's relationship was, which made me feel like I'm reading a Twilight-type love story.
-The adults in this book (even Taylor remarks on it!). Seriously, what the hell is going on with the adults? Hannah and Jude, I'm looking at you! You and your minimal interference into the lives of the children of your best friends! And what's with keeping the parentage of Jessa and Taylor secret? Especially Taylor? I know Hannah promised Tate to not 'mother' Taylor, but what exactly was the reason why she could not tell the abandoned girl that she, Hannah, is her paternal aunt? How would it have hurt Taylor to know that?????
- Taylor and Jonah: unprotected sex? Not cool. I'm a gynecologist, and I pay attention to these things, and neither Taylor nor Jonah seem to be at the point in their lives when they seem ready to have a kid - which can happen. STDs are also not cool, you know? Chlamydia is not a joke! I wish Melina Marchetta included a condom-buying scene. It may dampen the mood, but would have provided protection and a nod of approval from this Ob/Gyn doc.
And yet, despite my adulthood, despite a few eye-rolls, despite the issues that I describe above, I STILL teared up at the end. I think admitting that will TOTALLY ruin my street cred, but oh well. All the above taken into consideration, 4 easy stars.
"And life goes on, which seems kind of strange and cruel when you're watching someone die. But there's a joy and an abundance of everything, like information and laughter and summer weather and so many stories."