Review: A love letter to ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ by Melina Marchetta

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Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs—the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother—who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

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TW: death, murder, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, asthma attacks, discussion of domestic violence.

 

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“Taylor Markham,” said Raffaela, “I’m going to say a prayer for you.” And although I wanted to mock her and explain I didn’t believe in anything or anyone, I realised that no one had ever prayed for me before. So I let her.

 

I first read On the Jellicoe Road when I was 14 years old. I was in year 9 of high school and I had just discovered the joy that is reading. I had devoured Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi — which I deeply related to, being Italian-Australian — and then Saving Francesca. By the time I had picked up On the Jellicoe Road, Marchetta had only published three books, and I was determined to read all of them because I adored her writing.

I’m not exaggerating when I say On the Jellicoe Road changed my life. At the young age of 14, I had not yet read a book that affected me on a deep personal level because I had not yet read a wide-range of novels. That changed when I first laid eyes on On the Jellicoe Road. 

From the very first page, I knew this would be a special book. On the Jellicoe Road draws you in and fits itself snugly into a corner of your heart. This is a story within a story within a story: it’s about a daughter’s desperate search for her mother, it’s about a sister’s love for her brother, it’s about a boy finding solace after years of torment — it’s about family and friendship, love and heartbreak. It’s about healing, and acknowledging that, even if you don’t believe it right now, you deserve happiness and love, and the world is so lucky to have you. But most of all, it’s about belonging — to a family, a friendship group, a lover — whatever; so long as that person accepts you for who you are.

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.38.38 pmIs a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them?

 

I’m probably making it sound like this book is a dark pit of despair and angst, and while sometimes it can be, it’s also funny and romantic, mysterious and poignant. I cried like a baby during darker scenes and was then laughing a mere page later. I squealed approximately every time Jonah Griggs showed up, and blushed like mad whenever he and Taylor interacted. This book is a whirlwind of divergent emotions — you’ll never know what will hit you and the anticipation is part of its charm.

Every character in On the Jecllioe Road is a treasure. I adore them all and you will too, because they’re just so damn relatable. I found pieces of myself in all of them: in Taylor’s stubbornness, in Jonah’s protectiveness, in Raffy’s mother-hen attitudes, in Chaz’s tenacity, and in Jessa’s cheekiness; in Narnie’s steadfastness, in Webb’s joy, in Tate’s love, in Fitz’s liveliness, and in Jude’s vigilance. These incredible, loveable characters are what make the book — they are so real and in your face, it feels like they’re sitting next to you as you read.

Taylor, the main character, is probably one of the first characters I’ve ever fallen in love with. At the beginning of the novel, Taylor is deeply depressed and fed up with the world. She has been betrayed multiple times in her life by the people who are supposed to love her unconditionally, and is thoroughly dejected. But she has such a loving heart, even though she tries her hardest to bury her feelings behind a wall of sarcasm and dry wit (she’s actually hilarious), and attempts to keep people who care for her away because she can’t handle being betrayed again.

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.38.38 pm“What do you want from me?” he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
More.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about my first crush before, but it was on a book character: specifically, on Jonah Griggs. If you’ve read this book, you’ll know why I love Jonah Griggs so much and if you haven’t read it, you’ll soon find out. He and Taylor have history together, and it’s not the good kind. She feels as though Jonah betrayed her when they were younger, and as a result, there’s so much tension — romantic, hostile tension — between them when they meet again three years later. Jonah is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever come across; he cares for her so much and I love picking up on his affections throughout the novel, especially the ones Taylor doesn’t notice.

If you’re confused for the first 100 pages of the novel, don’t worry, you’re supposed to be. This is not a story that is meant to make sense until you’re close to the end. There are several intriguing mysteries peppered throughout the novel, simmering behind the main plot, that don’t make their presence known until close to the end of the book. It’s a brilliantly clever way of telling a story, and I am so impressed by Marchetta’s ability to keep so much of the mystery a secret from the reader for so long. But once you reach a certain point in the novel, you’ll begin to piece together the clues yourself, even though Taylor, our MC, is unaware of them. That’s when you know you’re reading a bloody good book: when the author can reveal something to the reader without the protagonist knowing. I’ve read this book four times and I’m still picking up on clues at the very beginning of the novel that I wasn’t aware of the first time round.

I will remember On the Jellicoe Road for the rest of my life. I love this book with all my heart because it taught me so much, but what sticks with me the most is that, just because I might be damaged, doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of love — any kind of love. You need to read this book to understand. Territory wars, unexpected romance, love, friendship, death, cheesy 80s songs, The Great Escape, and strange dreams all come together to make a flawless novel. I don’t think I’ve ever called a book perfect before, but, oh gosh, On the Jellicoe Road is so damn close.

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.38.38 pmA home to come back to every day of their lives.
Where they would all belong or long to be.
A place on the Jellicoe Road.

 

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A collection of my favourite quotes from On the Jellicoe Road 

 

Why would I want someone to be my everything when one day they might not be around?

 

It’s funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that’s why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It’s not the pain they’re getting over, it’s the love.

 

“Go to hell,” he said, but there was a desolate fear in his eyes and I couldn’t look away.
“Been there. Trust me. It’s so overrated.”

 

He took my hand, made me stand on the branch and asked, “What can you see from here?”
“Nothing” I said,
“Know what I can see? From this distance everything is so bloody perfect”.

 

“If you weren’t driving, I’d kiss you senseless,” I tell him.
He swerves to the side of the road and stops the car abruptly.
“Not driving any more.”

 

“So, like I asked, what’s with the nightie?”

“It smells like what I always think mothers smell like,” I tell him honestly, knowing I don’t have to explain.

He nods. “My mum has one just the same and you have no idea how disturbing it is that it’s turning me on.”

 

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,” and that was the last thing he ever said.

 

If I want more, I need to go and get it, demand it, take hold of it with all my might, and do the best I can with it.

 

I don’t want to let go, because tonight I’m not looking for anything more than being part of him. Because being part of him isn’t just anything. It’s kind of everything.

 

I’m frightened that one morning there will not be enough to keep me going.

 

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Have you read On the Jellicoe Road? If you haven’t, will you give it a go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Review: A love letter to ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ by Melina Marchetta

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