Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is an excellent YA novel with some extremely heavy themes, but an overall hopeful tone. The story is about a troubled teenaged girl named Taylor who lives at an Australian boarding school on the Jellicoe Road, the location of a tragic car accident twenty years prior. Every summer there is a territory war between the boarding school kids, a group of “Cadets” who spend the summer camping nearby, and the kids from town (the “Townies”). The war is an elaborate one with rules and physical violence (kind of reminded me of Lord of the Flies) and this year, Taylor is in charge of the boarding school kids.
Through the story, Taylor struggles to unravel the secrets about her family and about the strange dreams she’s been having. She’s helped along the way by numerous people, even people she thought were her enemies. All the characters’ stories come together in a very cool way at the end.
My only complaint is that there were just too many heavy themes introduced. There’s child abandonment, drug abuse/alcoholism, prostitution, child abuse, child pornography, murder, several suicide attempts/threats, arson, tragic car accidents, cancer… the list just goes on an on. After a while, there was just so much going on, that the story began to feel just a tiny bit contrived.
But even so, once I started this novel, I couldn’t put it down–it was satisfyingly engrossing right from the start. I think this is definitely one of those YA novels that many adults would enjoy.