"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
You can find more of my reviews (plus discussions and giveaways) at Christina Reads YA.
1. (+) Taylor Markham, the protagonist - Oh, Taylor. I really wanted to hug this girl. She can be so abrasive and she has trouble admitting that she needs people and she tends to run or avoid things that could hurt her. In short, she's so vulnerable... and yet also so strong, determined, and smart. To endure what she has and to thrive in a school for clever people, to lead her fellow House mates and to look for truths despite the pain they will cause - she is a remarkable heroine who undergoes such growth (seriously, jaw-dropping growth: I am in awe of this author's talent to bring together various plot threads on Taylor & making her that much more complex).
2. (+) World-building - I will admit to having felt some confusion with the story taking place in an Australian boarding school, but even if the terms were different, I understood the gist of what was being said (though I did wish I understood the school dynamics a bit more). Once the novel started, I appreciated all the details about Jellicoe Road and School - the House dynamics, the territory war between the Cadets, Townies, and Houses (and all the rules involved! the strategics!), the initiation phase for leaders, past and present accounts of the three groups and how the war started, the teachers and rivers and the Praying Tree and the history of the place. It was really refreshing to have such a unique twist on the typical high school narrative in contemporary YA. One thing, however, that I really wished for: a map of the Jellicoe School. It would have made it easier for me to picture the demarcations between Cadet, Townie, and House land.
3. (+) Romance - Jonah Griggs. Jonah Griggs. Jonah Griggs. Maybe if I write his name enough, you will understand how awesome this character is. He's not just there as a support, or a crutch on Taylor. He has his own growth to undergo, his own past to face. His characterization, secrets, and the truth of his moody stares--!!! So very intense and satisfying. Few couples actually make me feel something, but the history behind Taylor and Jonah and the way it interacts with their present was done remarkably well. Best of all, it felt real because there were arguments and tension-filled moments, yet they were both balanced by the sweet moments.
4. (+) Plotting - Even though I guessed the major twists less than halfway through, I still wanted to keep reading, at least to confirm my suspicions and for the emotional resonance of the story (definite pay-off there!)... and yet, there were some twists I didn't see coming, and at the end, I could only admire the intricate plotting and thought that went into creating this beautifully crafted novel.
5. (+) Characterization - There are a lot of characters in this novel. A lot. And yet each one had distinct motives and personality traits and there are so many lovable ones who are defined by just a few scenes, scenes that give you insight into who they truly are and how their connections to Taylor strengthen her character development. Narnie, Webb, Fitz, Tate, Jude, Sam, Griggs, Jessa, Chaz, Raffy, Ben, Santangelo's father, etc.
6. (+/-) The Beginning - I will say this: it was a bit hard for me to get into the story, because it's quite confusing at first. You're not really eased into the story, you're just expected to go along with it, though you won't get many answers for some while.... but the pay-off is definitely worthwhile.
7. (+) Themes/History - Love, grief, connections, history. One of the better parts of this novel, I think, is the way history ties into the world-building, the characterization and character connections/friendships (and not just between Taylor and everyone else but among the side cast), and the growth Taylor undergoes. The obvious impact and intermingling of past, present, and future went really with the lyricism of the writing.
8. (+) Writing - This is so beautifully written. It may be hard to get into at first, but there is a sort of dreaminess about the narrative (sometimes I was like: this is contemporary, right? Not magical realism?). It's the sort of lyricism and truth that reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater and Gayle Forman--what their styles would be like meshed together. Every time, I was taken anew not only by the beautiful descriptions but also by the way in which Ms. Marchetta wove plot threads and details together into this gut-wrenching story.
9. (+) Pacing - I already admitted to sometimes being frustrated that the secrets weren't all being revealed at once, but I could appreciate the careful grace in which everything came to light. The story has constant momentum for each of its (sub-)plots.
10. (+) The Cover - I'm assuming that's a poppy, and if so, it's beautifully appropriate, and I personally am a huge fan of the red paint and green scenery and title font.
I understand why this book won a Pulitzer. I understand why so many YA book bloggers champion Melina Marchetta. I understand, and I am going to read her fantasy series soon. Jellicoe Road is an intricately crafted masterpiece on the intertwining of love and grief, and what (or who) holds you together. Fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, for one, would enjoy this addition to YA contemporary lit, but I would recommend this novel to everyone.