[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/1509866]
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)
Printz Award (2009)
For the first time since they made me leader of the community, I realise why I told Hannah I was thinking of leaving. It's fear. Not of having to negotiate territory, fight a war, and make sure we come out of it with more land than when we started. I can do that blindfolded.In addition to being in charge of a house of year seven to eleven girls, Taylor is in charge of her school's efforts in a territory war against the Cadets and the Townies, a war that has been going on for years. Personal relationships with enemy factions are not allowed. But Taylor knows the leader of the Cadets; she ran away with him once. Her second-in-command, Raffy, grew up in town and should be, by all rights, a Townie. As she tries to figure out how to use these "complications" as advantages, life goes on, and Taylor's life gets more hectic than most. As her relationships with Jonah, Chaz (the leader of the Townie's), and Raffy become the most important things in Taylor's life, memories of what caused her to run away with Jonah in the first place threaten to push her over the edge, and the other Heads of House try to overthrow her to gain control of Jellicoe School. Because all is fair...
It's this that scares me.
My seniors have left the House.
I'm in charge of fifty kids who don't give a shit about territory wars. They just want to be looked after.
And I have no idea how.
I loved this book. I cannot possibly write a rational and unbiased review of it, but I'll try. Kind of.
There are a lot of things going on in this book, and, for a while, you just kind of have to take it on faith that it will all make sense in the end. Taylor, our heroine, is named the leader of the students of Jellicoe School, against the wishes of just about every other Head of House in her year, for the purpose of territory wars with the Townies and the (visiting) Cadets. She has recurring dreams about a boy in a tree that sometimes leave her crying in her sleep. Her best friend Raffy has some kind of veiled past relationship with the leader of the Townies. Taylor herself has a past relationship, which she wishes were a bit more veiled, with the leader of the Cadets. Taylor's friend/mentor/resident-adult up and leaves with no warning, and we are treated to portions of her manuscript which feature the story of five kids from about 20 years ago. One is a Townie, one is a Cadet and the remaining three are students at Jellicoe school, one of whom likes to hang out in a tree. As you can probably see, everything is connected, as much as Taylor wants to keep everything nice and compartmentalized, and even though hardly any of it makes sense on its own, let alone all together. Marchetta drops you right into the lives of these kids, giving you only the information you need (and sometimes not even that, I thought) to keep going. Eventually, though, it all starts to fall together. There is no aha-moment of clarity (or at least there wasn't for me). I just realized, at some point, that not only did I understand the intricacies of what was going on, but I cared deeply about the people to whom this was all happening.
The strength of Jellicoe Road is the characters and their revelations, not those of the reader, and that is a hard thing to pull off. There is some mystery built into the story, which I solved before Taylor or the other characters did. Normally, I am the person who flips ahead just to see how long it takes the characters to figure out what I already have, and I'm always annoyed when it takes them eons. That was not the case here. Even though I was pretty sure I knew all about who those five kids were twenty years ago and all about Taylor and Raffy's former relationships with the boys, I still felt their pain, amazement, shock, and fear as they figured things out for themselves. I loved these characters. Taylor is so tough and yet so vulnerable at the same time, and Raffy is her perfect compliment, in the way that your best friend in any boarding school (or dorm or first roommate) situation should be. Their friendship reminded me SO MUCH of my freshman year of college, the wonderful women I lived with, and how we all thought we learned to be self-sufficient but because we did it together we really depended on each other for love and support. Their relationships with the guys were equally authentic. They were full of history, hurt feelings and attraction that in no way featured in their former relationships. And while I know nothing about what it is to be a high school guy and make friends with other high school guys, the relationship between Jonah and Chaz (Taylor and Raf's guys, respectively) also felt very real to me.
And the whole thing is just so beautifully written. That's what made me keep reading in the beginning when I didn't feel like I knew what was going on, and that's what made me cry (like whoa) towards the end when everything finally came together and got to be okay. I cannot recommend it enough.
I know I haven't written a review so much as some kind of testament to the everyone-should-read-it-because-it-was-SO-GOOD feeling, so here are some of the reviews that got me to pick up Jellicoe Road:
poshdeluxe's review at forever young adult
Persnickety Snark's list of reasons why she loves this book
a brief review (that still gushes) at bookshelves of doom
Book source: Philly Free Library