Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

jellicoeroad1.JPGFor the first thirty or forty pages, this novel had me totally baffled. There are a few different story lines, and it’s not at all obvious how they connect. Right away, there’s a terrible tragedy, a recurring dream with a boy in a tree, and a girl being dragged from bed in the middle of the night to some sort of underground school election. But this book has received so much critical attention and so many outstanding reviews that I stuck with it. I knew it didn’t receive the Printz Award for nothing (I always love the Printz Award winners and nominees). Besides, all of these loose pieces intrigued me. So did the main character, Taylor Markham, whose personal history is so full of heartbreak and pain that she’s blocked most of it out. All she can be sure of is her name and address. She lives on the Jellicoe Road, at an Australian boarding school where she’s a senior in high school. Where she’s responsible for the younger boarders in her dormitory. Where she participates in the territory wars, the competition for land and resources among the boarding school students, the local kids, and the military cadets. Where she loses her best friend, finds a mysterious manuscript, and falls in love.

This is a strange and beautiful novel, which had me totally transfixed. These kids are so removed from regular society (they don’t even have cell phone service on the Jellicoe Road) that a unique culture arises among them. They have their own codes of conduct, their own laws, their own systems of justice. These kids might as well be on a desert island, so separated are they from the pulse of civilization. It took some work to get into this novel, but it was well worth the effort. Reading it, I felt transported to another world and I totally escaped from this one. From me, that’s the highest praise possible for any book. Melina Marchetta is an author to watch.