Book blurb: On The Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta is the Australian author of the much-beloved and much-awarded Young Adult books Looking For Alibrandi and Saving Francesca (also Finnikin Of The Rock – so far unread).  I’ve read these multiple times, and on my latest visit to a bookshop greedily scooped up On The Jellicoe Road (published 2007) and her most recent release The Piper’s Son.

I am a big fan of Melina Marchetta and her writing.  Her characters are so real and alive, through brilliant characterisation and dialogue.  Her books are in the Young Adult category so are directed at the mid-to-late teen group, but the stories and themes are universal and heart-warming* so Proper Grown Ups can enjoy them too (and have a bit of a nostalgic gleam about their teen years).

*I usually despise the description of any YA or chick-lit as “heart-warming”, it’s tossed around by reviewers in such a generic way, like so many MickDee burgers (and just as nauseating).  However in Marchetta’s case “heart-warming” is so perfect a description I’ll let it go.  In Saving Francesca especially I totally related to the feeling of alienation experienced by Francesca herself, and also her mother’s “nervous breakdown” and deep dark depression.

So, firstly, On The Jellicoe Road     (The Piper’s Son to follow)

On The Jellicoe Road starts off in a very fragmented, almost surreal way;  I started reading it in the bookshop and even being very familiar with Marchetta’s previous writings I wasn’t sure what I’d picked up.  But I continued, and the way all the fragments and pieces come together, with flashbacks and bits of the past, make totally compelling reading.  You just have to know what happens to the characters and the story-line.

Now to the characters:  as I said characterisation and dialogue are what Marchetta does best, she also has an uncanny way of making the few bits of dialogue carry even more meaning.  And the way she gets inside her character’s heads is amazing.  She really does SHOW not TELL (one of my main hates is when authors go on and on telling you what so-and-so is feeling, instead of showing by dialogue, behaviour, whatever).

The principal character of On The Jellicoe Road is Taylor Markham, a 16-year old girl in Year Eleven at a school for wards of the state and juvenile delinquents, set far out in the New South Wales bush.  I really enjoyed her personal journey of finding out her past history, and the breaking down of personal emotional defences.  I did have to ask why she hadn’t found out about her past before, but came to understand through Marchetta’s writing how Taylor had blocked out those memories and hardened her heart (as only a teenager can).

The other main characters, Raffy, Santangelo and of course Jonah Griggs, the hunky romantic interest, are interesting and fun.  Several times throughout the book I had to query these “kids”;  for sixteen year olds they are incredibly adult.  Not just physically / sexually but emotionally; they think, act and interact in a really truly adult way for 16 year olds. 

Maybe Marchetta knows different teens than I did in my time, or is deliberately making the point in On The Jellicoe Road how much more mature teens are “these days”, because there’s no way kids at my high school ever acted, spoke or made such life decisions as the young adults in Jellicoe

All in all I loved On The Jellicoe Road, and it definitely stands up to multiple re-readings.  In fact, a re-reading is almost a must, to take in what you missed the first time.  The story and characters draw you in, and Marchetta makes you care for them as much as she did with Josie and Francesca.  Naturally I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Piper’s Son . . .

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