Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Hi all,

“Damn, I wish I wrote this”, is the thought that usually comes to mind while reading books by one of my favourite Aussie authors, Melina Marchetta. On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road) is no exception.

Why has it taken me so long to read this book (first published more than a decade ago), when I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina’s two previous YA books?

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At least now I have read it.

When I headed off to Europe a couple of months ago, I wanted to take something with me that oozed distinct #LoveOzYa flavour. On the Jellicoe Road fell into my lap a few days before I left, so I stuffed it in my bag and read it while cruising Welsh canals.

And…it…was…wonderful.

So what’s it all about?

Taylor Markham, a seventeen-year-old boarding school student at Jellicoe School in country New South Wales, was abandoned by her mother in a 7-Eleven restroom when she was eleven. At that time, a woman named Hannah began caring for her, but Taylor grows to suspect that Hannah hides knowledge about Taylor’s mother.

When Taylor was fourteen, a hermit whispered something in her ear (which she can’t remember – along with other pockets of her life) before he committed suicide in front of her. Taylor ran away to search for her mother and, on the way, met Jonah Griggs, a military school cadet who, she’s been told, killed his own father.

I love the dialogue when they met:

“Do you know when the next train to Yass is coming?” I had asked.

“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.”

So Taylor opened up to him, but felt betrayed when he called an adult to come and collect them.

Now seventeen, Taylor has put up a wall to the world and is no longer willing to trust. By a weird political process, she finds herself chosen to lead the Jellicoe School kids in the next round of territorial wars between them and the cadets (with Jonah as their leader) and the townies, a group of students who live in town and whose leader has history with one of Taylor’s few true supporters.

Taylor must face Jonah again as enemies. To make things worse, Hannah, the constant in Taylor’s life and the one person she trusts, disappears.

While most of the story is told in Taylor’s first-person point of view, there are also snippets of another tale, told in third-person and concerning a group of kids brought together following a car accident which claimed the lives of some of their parents. The connection between the two stories is beautiful, but heart-breaking.

I won’t say any more – there is so much more I could – except that, after a surprisingly slow start, this story gathers momentum until, by the end, I nearly wept. So many small, seemingly insignificant, details connect in a beautiful tale of the power of family, love, and forgiveness. The characters are memorable, the writing fantastic, and the story completely moving, which only serves to reaffirm Melina’s place as one of Australia’s best YA authors in my eyes.

On Melina, I’ve referred to her in a previous post, when she wrote a great piece on the implications of the Productivity Commission’s proposed changes to intellectual property on the Australian publishing industry, Australian writers and readers. You can read it here:

Alibrandi, Francesca, You and the Productivity Commission

For more about Melina and her books, visit her website.

Now back to my own writing,

Rebecca

 

 

Book Review: Red Queen Series (so far) by Victoria Aveyard

Hi all,

I have a hard time not reading a book in its entirety. Once I start, I feel like I’ve failed if I don’t read to the end. Or maybe the book has failed me?

I suppose this is why, after four failed attempts at getting beyond the fifty-page mark of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, I gritted my teeth and persevered. After all, I had been given the three books in the series so far, as well as the companion book, Cruel Crown, which includes two short back stories from the point of view of supporting characters.

Am I happy I persevered enough to read all four?

No. And, yes.

Let me explain.

This series consists of a hierarchical dystopian society complete with a girl who finds out she has a special power, a potential love triangle (or quadrangle, depending on how you look at it), and a growing rebellion. Those with extraordinary powers (the Silvers) wield these powers to maintain control over those without (the Reds). Trouble is, the main character, a Red girl named Mare, develops a special power of her own. The Silvers are not pleased, to say the least, and try to pass Mare off as a long-lost Silver (yeah, right) until they can figure out what to do with her. With no choice but to live this new life, Mare tries from within royal circles to help the Red rebellion.

I don’t want to say much more about the actual story – I hate posts brimming with spoiler alerts – so instead…

First of all, I found Mare a little annoying, probably due to the fact that much of her dialogue was followed up with internal monologue and/or explanation (loads of Tell over Show here, guys). I was seldom allowed, as the reader, to come up with my own interpretation on how she was feeling and what she was thinking. I also found many of the characters quite stereotypical – evil queen, loyal best friend, wise older teacher, mean girl gang, and traditional older prince. A bit ho-hum.

The plot twists as a whole came across rather weak and poorly conceived. For instance, on her first day on the job and with no training, Mare was put to work at the most important event on the calendar. Really? Was this the best way to introduce her special skill? And the main villain was too easy to identify. If someone’s too good to be true, they usually are, right? Too cliché.

But my biggest peeve was the use of point of view. Take the first book, Red Queen, written in Mare’s first-person point of view. This girl sure has an amazing way of hopping into another’s head. Another special power, perhaps? For example:

“Maven is more desperate, surprising himself as much as me. He knows I’m sinking fast, a stone dropped through the river. And he wants to drown with me.”

This continues in Glass Sword, the second book:

“Grateful for the change in conversation, he pulls himself together.”

And King’s Cage, the third book:

“He walks forward, fighting the deep instinct to fear this place.”

How does Mare know what these characters are feeling??? In each of these examples, there is no indication through their actions or words that would lead her to these conclusions. She may suspect, especially in the later books once she knows these characters better, but they are all still assumptions on her part. Is she some sort of all-knowing deity?

So why did I continue? Why did I read them all? Because once I finished the first book, there was no going back. For all of its simplicity, and as long as I could take note of flaws and move on, I came to enjoy the story Victoria Aveyard had created and the world it inhabited. I grew fond of the characters, under-developed though they may be, especially some of those supporting. Going forward, the stories surrounding characters such as Evangeline and Cameron actually interest me more than Mare’s. Something to do with their internal conflict, I suspect.

So if you want standard run-of-the-mill escapism, and don’t dissect the plot/characters/style too much, this series could be for you. But if you’re looking for something totally unexpected and fresh, with writing that leaves you breathless, hmmm, maybe not so much.

Will I buy the next book? Maybe…yes, unless I’m given that one as well 🙂

I’ve come too far.

Until next time,

Happy writing (and reading),

Rebecca

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Hi all,

I’ve just finished a YA contemporary fantasy book I really want to tell you about. It’s “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness, and the reason I want to speak about it is that it is so different to a lot that I’ve read lately in this genre.

The Rest Of Us 2

By different, I mean it turns the “chosen one” concept on its head. Big time. The blurb on the back of the book starts with, “Not everyone has to be the chosen one”, and how right Ness is.

The chosen ones (called the Indie kids) deal with supernatural attacks in the background (previously from vampire and soul-eating ghosts, and now from some group known as the Immortals). The real story of this novel is how the regular guys deal with everyday life, every bit as interesting and important, while these attacks occur in the peripheral. Ness successfully flips the priority by only allowing a short outline at the start of each chapter to explain what is going on in paranormal battle. The body of each chapter is about the main character, seventeen-year-old Mikey, and his family and friends. Only the occasional peep into the happenings of the Indie kids is allowed during the main narrative, and only when it threatens to, and eventually does, cross over into Mikey’s life.

Mikey, himself, suffers from major anxiety, his sister nearly died from an eating disorder, his mother is obsessed with entering politics, and his father’s a drunk. Add to this the fact that Mikey’s confused about his feelings for his best friend, Jared, and a pretty childhood friend, Henna, and he’s got a lot on his mind – and his mind doesn’t deal well with it all.

My favourite chapter is when Mikey returns to see his therapist. The dialogue between the two is insightful, and highlights the pressures teenagers can feel about who they are and how they fit into their peer group and the wider world. However, I didn’t find it preachy, as it plays a part in a decision Mikey makes at the end. There’s no action in the traditional sense in this chapter (not like when Mikey’s group flee from approaching pairs of mysterious blue eyes…) but it had my eyes riveted to the pages just the same.

“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” is funny in parts, slightly satirical in others, and downright touching in most. It highlights that real life is here and now, and can be just as hard and scary as anything superheroes must contend with. I could tell you more but that would give too much away. Let’s just say you should read it to find out…

Now I’d like to read the Indie kids’ version of this story, even though I know how it ends. Please, Mr. Ness?

Until next time, happy writing (and reading),

Rebecca