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If there’s a novel that is given more GoodReads love than this one, I have yet to hear of it. Browsing the reviews for Jellicoe Road, I was bombarded with 5-star rating after 5-star rating, glowing review after glowing review. I’ll be honest; after all that, the synopsis could have been about a dancing chicken and I would have rushed over to Amazon to order it. (It’s not, don’t worry.)
Taylor Markham is a character taken straight out of a Lifetime movie; she doesn’t know her dad and her rarely-sober mother abandons her at a 7-Eleven, sentencing her to a life at a boarding school and guardianship from the one and only adult in her life to ever truly be there for her, Hannah…until she disappears, too. As if that’s not enough to ratchet the melodrama up to a 10, there’s a tragic story of 5 good friends being told simultaneously, one that happened in the past and slowly answers questions about Taylor’s history.
The beginning of Jellicoe Road is very confusing, going back-and-forth between both stories with little to no segue, and no idea of how they match up in any way but location. It took me nearly half the book to really get into the story, and those pages were spent terrified I’d be the odd-man-out yet again, shrugging my shoulders at an enormously loved book and stamping my pessimistic, Debby Downer 2 –or –3-star rating on it. Thankfully, the second half delivered on all the promises the first half laughed at, and I found myself totally immersed in a heart-wrenching story full of lovable characters, many with huge, realistic flaws.
What makes Jellicoe Road work is how it deals with the melodrama it contains. With so many tragic events making up the life of one seventeen year old girl, this could have gone terribly wrong in less capable hands. Marchetta manages to make it believable and relatable, never pushing it over-the-top, or cheapening the subject matter. There are no static characters, no Big Bad Guy or flawless hero. Everyone reacts to and is shaped by the events in their lives. This proves to me once again that the most important thing in a story is its characterization, especially in contemporary novels.
This is hard for me to rate because of the completely different opinions I had about the first and second half. Ultimately, though you do realize that the beginning needed to be as slow and confusing as it was to make the rest so powerful, I can’t give this the full 5 stars when it took me so long to begin to enjoy it. I do, however, highly recommend it to readers who like a little more substance to their YA, and don’t mind having their emotions put on a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Jellicoe Road - 4 out of 5 stars