Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe RoadI love Kathleen Edwards.  Now, that might seem like a non sequitur at the beginning of a post about Melina Marchetta’s newest YA novel, but here’s my story: last night I was on my way to a Kathleen Edwards concert at The Paradise Lounge.  I stopped down the street to grab some Thai food before the show, and put this book on the table next to my (delicious) Tofu Drunken Noodle.  I was about halfway through, and absolutely loving it.  By the time I finished my dinner it was about time for the opening act to start.  And I like Last Town Chorus, I really do, but gosh it was tough to put this book down.  So I slipped into a coffee shop, figuring I could read for another forty-five minutes or so and still have plenty of time to catch the second set.  By the time the barista tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that they were closing in five minutes, it was pretty clear that my evening was not going as planned.  I spent the rest of the evening getting funny looks from other riders on the red and green lines while I wept openly over the last few chapters of Jellicoe Road.   There are not many books that I would skip a Kathleen Edwards concert for, but this one is definitely on that short list.

Jellicoe Road is certainly a stylistic departure from Melina Marchetta’s other wonderful books, Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi.  But when you get down to it, they are about many of the same things – the family you are born into and the family that you create, a search for identity, breaking down the walls between people.  Taylor Markham is feeling lost in her life, as she has since her mother left her alone on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven years old.  But her schoolmates are expecting her to lead their turf war with the Townies and the Cadets, all while she is negotiating a tumultuous relationship with the leader of the Cadets.  Taylor’s recurring dreams and a confusing story found in her guardian’s house provide a key to Taylor’s past, as well as to the story of the conflict.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the first half of this book was a struggle for them, and I didn’t have that experience at all.  While I absolutely agree that the second half of Marchetta’s book is where the novel finds its heart and soul, I really enjoyed trying to decipher the two threads of the narrative and imagining what the connections between the past and present could be.  A careful and curious reader will find clues that point to many of the eventual connections, and when the stories finally do come together, it is absolutely revelatory.  So much more than I could ever have imagined.  And well worth missing what was probably a great concert.

Melina Marchetta on the web.

Jellicoe Road on the web.

Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca

Francesca is one of 30 girls attending St. Sebastian’s Academy, which is accepting girls for the very first time this year. The teachers and the student body have not been exactly accommodating of the girls, and Francesca makes it to school every day only from the motivation of her mother Mia, who is extremely optimistic, lively, and often annoying. Until one day, Mia won’t get out of bed. Mia was the center of the whole family, and suddenly Francesca, her father, and her little brother Luca must struggle to keep daily life going. As Francesca slowly adjusts to her new surroundings at school, makes friends with the other girls, and begins to fall for the infuriating Will Trombal, she must also learn to live life without the constant guidance of her mother and her old, popular friends. And finally, Francesca needs to discover the root of her mother’s sudden depression, and learn what she can do to help Mia return to her life.

I imagine that well written, light-hearted novels dealing with depression are few and far between, but this title certainly fits the bill. Francesca is a heartbreakingly real character, both in her humorous reactions to everyday life and in her emotional reactions to her mother’s illness. Life and relationships are allowed to be complicated in Marchetta’s book, and Francesca deals with these complications in ways that many teens will be able to relate to.