Sometimes the past should be left in the past; other times, the past is all we see.
I read Jellicoe Road (also known as On the Jellicoe Road) by Melina Marchetta when I was in high school. I loved it. I considered it one of my favourite novels. Fast forward 5 years and I couldn’t remember what the novel was about. So I reread it. And I kind of wish I hadn’t.
It’s not that Jellicoe Road is a bad book; it’s just that with age, comes different perspective. It’s not nearly as good as I remember, although I can see why I fell in love with it. The story is twisted and complicated in a way that makes it difficult to summarize. It’s about a group of kids at a boarding school who have “territory wars” with the Cadets and Townies. Except, it’s not really about that. It’s about a girl who was abandoned at the school. It’s about the past, and how it weaves into the next generation.
I think the plot of this novel is wonderful. It’s one of those books that throws you right into the story, refusing to explain itself. You, as the reader, have to piece together Taylor’s recent and distant past, just as she has to piece together the life of her mother. I absolutely love that, and I love the very, very slow reveals because they never seem to drag on. I also love the boarding school and the territory wars; how fun would it be to live there? The story is sad, and touching, and interesting enough to hold attention. The reason I wish I hadn’t read this novel has nothing to do with its story, but rather with its characters.
The characterization. It’s… unsatisfying. I find the majority of the characters are one dimensional, or flat. Including, unfortunately, Taylor. She felt almost like a Mary Sue at times, and her broodiness, which makes her interesting, disappears throughout the novel. Taylor is boring. Taylor’s friends are boring. Griggs is BORING. Sorry, but I’m much more interested in the older characters, like Hannah, and Hannah’s story.
Not only are they boring, but they also don’t seem to develop. They’re not people; they’re words on a page, used to further the plot. And don’t get me started on Taylor’s romance. There was 0 chemistry and it just seemed like it was there to mirror the other story told in the novel. The romance felt random and forced, and not at all necessary. I was so confused when they kept talking about how much they like and care about each other because… did they even know each other? The character development and characterization is poorly done, which is extremely unfortunate and it deeply saddens me. But it did answer my question as to why I couldn’t remember one of my favourite books from high school: flat characters don’t make for memorable stories.
Jellicoe Road is not a bad novel, and I did really enjoy it, both times that I read it. But if you’re looking for a novel with characters that feel like friends, I would pass this one over.
3 Prayer Trees out of 5.