Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor Markham has a lot on her mind. She’s the new head of her faction in the territory wars, her caretaker Hannah has disappeared, and her love-hate interest Jonah Griggs is back in town. As Taylor begins to investigate Hannah’s disappearance, she discovers that what went down on Jellicoe road in the past might just be connected to her present.


This one was recommended to me by so many people – reviewers I trust – I thought I was going to fall in instant love. But on my first reading (yes, I ended up reading it twice), I was pretty close to hating it. There are two narrative threads – Taylor in the present, and then some seemingly random and unrelated stories about 5 other teens written in italics. For the first 100 odd pages, I was honestly stumped as to why anyone would love this novel.

In the present day, the territory wars were just irritating. I just didn’t care about Taylor and her tenuous grip on power. She’s not a terribly likeable character anyway. She’s prickly, standoffish and often talks to some imaginary guy in a tree. And deal breaker alert – she drowns a cat.

And the 5 teens in italics – that whole part was just confusing. Who were these people and why am I supposed to care? You don’t find out until way into the novel, and by the time you do, for me it was too little, too late.

The second half is a much better read – you’re getting answers and you are getting some steamy action with Jonah Griggs. And even if it is with cat-killer Taylor, it’s still quite touching. They are both broken, and find in each other kindred spirits. Awww!

But still at end of my first reading, I felt so much aversion to the book, I was embarrassed to admit it. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Was I just an unfeeling monster?  How could I not like it when it won so many rave reviews and the 2009 Printz?

So I put it down for 2 weeks and read it again last night. And yes, I enjoyed it much more upon the second reading. Knowing the end, I could finally read the beginning without confusion. It was easier to concentrate and to sympathize.

I have to say, though, I think a book is fundamentally flawed if you have to read it twice before you can really get into it. I’d have been more impressed if Marchetta had found a way into the story that retained some of the cryptic, tragic character, but in way that made me care from the beginning.

JELLICOE ROAD is available in paperback now. Find out more about it at the author’s website.

20 comments:

Lauren said...

I found this review fascinating. I've so many glowing reviews of this, and then when I bought it I just didn't click with it at all. I've put it aside for a short time and I'm intending to go back to it, but in a way I'm strangely pleased to find someone else had a similar experience.

Miss K said...

I love that you and reader Lauren felt the same way. I had to give up on this novel, and I almost NEVER quit books.

Beth F said...

I knew there was a reason I decided not read this one -- thanks for the reminder.

Carla said...

Well, you know how I feel about this book and I don't know what to say really other than it's amazing that everyone has different tastes, and how boring life would be if everyone loved everything. I do agree about the first 100 pages, i was totally confused, i had little to no clue who the characters were or what was going on, but I am so glad i perservered because this is one of my all time favourites.

Katie said...

WOW! Jellicoe Road is one of my all-time favorite books. I was head over heels in love with the characters and depressed when it was over b/c I wanted the story to just keep going. Thanks for a good reminder that there is no such thing as a "book for everyone!" I'll try to stop recommending it to strangers on the street :)

Sam @ Parenthetical said...

I ended up loving the book, but I only stuck with it (as you did) because so many people told me I'd love it. They ended up being right, but it's totally ok that they weren't in your case.

(We put this on our recommended summer reading list for 9th grade, and when I booktalk it to the 8th graders in the spring, I make a BIG DEAL about how it'll be confusing as hell, but (I think) worth it. Somehow this must be a selling point -- it was one of the more popular selections. This possibly says interesting things about our 8th graders. :) )

Amanda said...

I've tried reading this book several times and failed each time. Eventually, I gave up.

Alison said...

I know exactly what you mean even though I think Jellicoe Road is an incredibly good book. It took me too tries to get through it. I was so confused. But once things made sense, it was unbelievably beautiful and smart. I re-read the book as soon as I finished it and marveled at how the littlest thing at the beginning of the story later came to have so much meaning.
But there's definitely something to be said for having a readable book. It would have been ideal if she could have somehow balanced the wonder of the story with the necessity for such confusion.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

OMG she drowns a cat? Not sure I can read this one...

Staci said...

Whew..I'm so thrilled to learn that I'm not flawed. I hated it and couldn't get past 75 pages, so back to the library it went. I agree with your last paragraphs.

Amy said...

This definitely seems to be a book that divides people....not sure that makes the book itself flawed though. :) Just provides different experiences for different people.

Of course I've never read it! LOL So I'm just reacting to your review.

Emy Shin said...

I have seen so many recommendations for Melina Marchetta, and will read one of her books, but probably not this one. Thank you for the review!

Lenore said...

Definitely a book that divides people. And I am sure many wouldn't agree that it is flawed - just my humble opinion!

Zibilee said...

I also think it's kind of screwed up that you had to read it twice to really get it. That is not a mark of a successful read to me. I am definitely going to be avoiding this one.

Jenny said...

I often have this experience, which is why I carry on doing rereads of books I wasn't crazy about the first time. Sometimes it's not worthwhile, but sometimes it pays off like crazy. Glad you enjoyed this, in the end - I liked it a lot too!

Michelle said...

I agree, the beginning was extremely confusing and could compel a reader to put it down before finishing. I'm glad I didn't though, I really enjoyed this one once I got to the point where things got more clear. Sorry it wasn't a good experience for you :(

Anna said...

I love your review. I had a really tough time getting into the book, but in the end I was one of those people raving about it wildly. To me, a lot of that raving is because I didn't love the book at first, but I kept reading! I NEVER do that! And I actually found out I liked it in the end! Maybe loving the book, for me, is more about the experience of reading it and the lesson it taught me than it is about the book itself?

simmone said...

well it took me two goes too - but I found it really worth it. And I feel like a better person for it! As a writer, Jellicoe makes me want to up my game. A lot of YA sits pretty in the shallows. which really is a crime against language and invention. To smooth my bulgy metaphor I'll say that marchetta used the whole pool.

Katie said...

Oh my goodness, you are the first person I've read that agrees with me about this book. I read so many amazing reviews that I got it and read it, even though it took me much longer to read than normal because I just couldn't get excited about it. I thought the whole thing was confusing and yes, would improve on second reading because then you know who the people are. Still, definitely not a book I'd recommend to people.

Chutzpah said...

Well, all I know now is 1. I'm following you and 2. I need to read this book. I don't know if I'll be able to like the book when the main character drowns a cat, though!