Book Review of Melina Marchetta’s “On the Jellicoe Road”

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a beautifully intricate novel that won the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. The YA novel was first published in Austrailia in 2006 and made its debut in the United States in 2008 with an abbreviated title Jellicoe Road.  

*Austrailian cover pictured left and right, U.S. cover center

In the beginning of the novel, I found myself lost. Marchetta has such a way of writing that even though I was struggling to decipher what was happening I found myself wanting to go on and read more in search of answers similar to Taylor the main protagonist of the novel. The fragmentation of the novel really lends itself to seeking answers. Marchetta breaks the novel into almost two different stories it seems.

There’s 17-year-old Taylor Markham who is a senior attending a boarding school on Jellicoe Road. This boarding school is no ordinary boarding school, as it is a school specifically meant for children who have been abandoned by their parents and families. Taylor ended up at Jellicoe after her mother left her at a 7/11 when she was eleven. Every autumn a territory war is waged between the students, the “townies” of Jellicoe, and the cadets of a military school in Sydney. The cadets set up camp near the school every September as part of their outdoor training. Taylor being the student who has lived in Jellicoe the longest becomes the elected leader of the school during the war. Chaz Santangelo, son of the police chief, is the leader of the townies, and the cadets are led by Jonah Griggs.

Interwoven among Taylor’s story is one of five children who lived in Jellicoe twenty-two years previously. Their story is told in bits in pieces as it is part of Hanah’s book. Hannah actually happens to be the woman who brought Taylor to the boarding school. The freaky thing is that Hannah’s book and Taylor’s story happen to have many things in common. We’re left, as is Taylor, wondering how fictitious is Hannah’s story; could it possibly be true?

Marchetta’s ability to withhold the deepest of secrets while still telling a well-constructed novel is what drives the plot. She gradually reveals bits and pieces of the overall story offering the audience time to contemplate the actions of the characters and their past.

Taylor is probably one of the most complex characters I have encountered in a young adult novel. She is a leader but selfish, she is abrasive but longs for love, but most importantly she is brave but afraid of getting to close to people and trusting them. There are so many people in her life that want to love her but some of them can’t because of their own demons they are dealing with or Taylor can’t let them because of her own. She has dealt with sexual, emotional, and mental abuse from a very young age. Sadly, when Taylor goes off to find her mother in search for answers about her past she learns of about these abuses; memories she has forgotten all about. Taylor becomes most vulnerable with Jonah, the leader of the cadets. Previously, when Taylor was around 14, she and Jonah ran away together to find her mother in Sydney. But, Jonah ends up calling the Brigadier, the adult in charge of the cadets, to pick them up. Taylor and Jonah have a falling out but eventually makeup later on in the novel. I believe the reason Taylor and Jonah have such a strong bond is because they have both endured similar types of abuses. They both struggle to let people in because it’s a lot easier to say goodbye to people whom you have no connection with. Watching Taylor’s progression of maturing and ultimately finding her self is ambivalent in nature. As the story unfolds so do all her past traumas and there is something beautiful in the realism Marchetta uses to express this coming to terms Taylor experiences.

I think the important themes of the novel: loss, identity, and the past really emphasize the connection that can be made with young adults. These themes are present in both Taylor’s story and Hannah’s manuscript. I believe this novel does an extremely well job of describing how children respond to loss and rejection of a parent. Taylor and the children of the boarding school are all too familiar of this kind of loss just as the five children in Hannah’s manuscript are. Inresponse to this abandonment, they band together forming their own family units; while struggling with difficult questions and longing for answers. For instance, Taylor is put in the difficult position of being in charge of her House while trying to dealing with the emptiness of her mom’s absence. She finds solace in her friends Raffela, Ben, and eventually Chaz and Jonah too. All these themes go hand in hand as Taylor is struggling to figure out who she is because she has dealt with tremendous trauma and loss that she has suppressed and been suppressing for many years. While uncovering her past is a painful journey, it is the truth about her past that sets her free from all the pain she has been causing herself. Understanding her past and learning the circumstances of the loss she has endured, Taylor is better fit to understand who she is, where she comes from, and who she wants to be.

On the Jellicoe Road has stuck with me ever since I finished reading it. I was so drawn to the characters and enjoyed watching them develop as the story progressed. Knowing that you are not alone is something all of us long for. The connection I felt to all of the children in this novel was extremely powerful. We all want to belong and are looking for a place to call our own and people to call our own. I found that in this novel. I found a place that calls my name and I hope that if you read this novel you’ll find that too.

Works Cited

Anonymous Blogger. On the Jellicoe Road book covers Around the Globe. 2011. Awesome Inc. Theme. ina_31.Html. Accessed 28 November 2018.  


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