Genre: YA contemporary
Pages: 432 (hardcover)
Published: 2008 by Harper Teen in the US
This is such a beautiful book: complex and funny and heartbreaking, and so utterly real that sometimes while reading it I just stopped and had to go back and read a line or two out loud, just to take it all in better. I've read a lot of really good books this year, but Jellicoe Road might just take the cake-- I know for a fact that it will end up on the Best of 2011 list come December. No summary or review can really describe the emotion and depth of the characters and the tragedies and the way all the different elements and sub-plots of the story come together in time for an ending as bittersweet, and yet somehow very satisfying, as any I've ever read. But I'll try my best.
The Jellicoe School has been at war for eighteen years. For six weeks at the beginning of every school year, the Cadets-- a band of boys from a military school-- arrive for their annual occupation of Jellicoe Road and the surrounding countryside. The Jellicoe students, many of whom are renowned for being 'troubled' kids, wage territory wars against the Cadets and the equally ambitious Townies, fighting and plotting tooth and nail to hold their ground. This year, senior girl Taylor Markham has been chosen as The Leader of her school's military exploits, despite her track record of being somewhat unstable. With the arrival of the Cadets comes the return of their leader, the enigmatic Jonah Griggs, whom Taylor daily regrets running away with a few years ago. But she's determined to not let Jonah-- or anyone-- get the best of her or the Jellicoe School.
But even as she attempts to forge new alliances with the Townie kids and attempts to resist the irresistible lure of Jonah-- who she loves as much as she hates--, Taylor's past comes rushing back at her. She begins to slowly discover old secrets, coincidences and connections and clues, all of which seem to trail back to one person-- Hannah, her beloved guardian who took her in after Taylor's mother dumped her in the Jellicoe Road gas station six years ago and hasn't made an appearance in Taylor's life since. After Hannah disappears with scarcely a trace, Taylor fears she has been abandoned yet again. She must search for clues to uncover more about the tragic story and remarkable friendship of five teenagers who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago if she wants to find out the truth about Hannah and the mysteries of her own life.
I loved just the feel of this book, the way the words flow and the characters interact and the pieces of the plot slowly start to make sense. The reluctant friendships Taylor has with Jonah and Santangelo (the Townie leader) and all the other teens rang very true to me; Taylor and Jonah were very much like an older (and romantically involved, at least part of the time) version of those two kids on the playground who trip each other and talk trash, but secretly everybody knows they're harboring crushes and they get along just fine half the time. Jellicoe Road itself did feel like something of a Shangri-La to me-- I wanted to go there and see the flowers those kids planted so long ago and walk to the Prayer Tree and climb up into that old treehouse with graffiti scrawled all over its trunk. As much as I enjoyed reading it, Jellicoe Road is the kind of book that will make you cry. But it's not at all the all-despairing, I'm-bawling-like-a-baby-and-why-did-I-ever-want-to-read-this? agony; there were as many happy moments that made me smile as there were sad ones. It's an emotional roller coaster ride, at the risk of sounding cliched. This is one of those books I'm just going to have to buy, because I will definitely be reading it again soon. Recommend Jellicoe Road to everyone and anyone-- go read it now!!!
Cover: 5/5 (Perfect. Both editions have perfect covers.)
Overall Rating: 5/5
*This book is the first I've read for the 2011 YA Aussie Reading Challenge. Awesome start to the challenge.*