Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Jellicoe Road

This was our selection for my February meeting with my young at heart young adult book club. I was so worried it was going to be a bust. While the prologue sucked me in immediately (it begins with a car crash - how's that for action), the first hundred and fifty pages left me scratching my head (yes - I still plowed ahead despite one hundred and fifty pages of total confusion).

The first four sentences in Jellicoe Road are magnificent: "My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I'd ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la."

The problem came with the first chapter which fast-forwards twenty-two years and begins with a different narrator. It takes a while to discover that the italics portions (in the prologue and following chapters) are written from the adult Hannah's perspective as a book she is writing about five young people who come together after the crash, and the rest is from seventeen-year-old Taylor's perspective. Hannah (who saved Taylor when she was abandoned by her mother at the age of eleven) is Taylor's guardian at a boarding school, where Taylor has just been named house leader. There's something going on called "the territory wars," between the boarding school students, the Townies, and the Cadets. Then, Hannah mysteriously disappears and Taylor is left to fend for herself while trying to assert her tenuous leadership. It is just a muddle of confusion, with the parts making no sense to draw everything into a whole piece.

I was frustrated out of my gourd. As page followed page with no better understanding of what was going on, I began to despair and think it was going to be a horrible read. But still, I plowed on (only because I wanted to contribute to discussion at our meeting). If not for the book club, I would have tossed it aside at page 50. Alas, I would have never come to the tears at the end.

The second half of the book finally comes together to bring some sense of order to the disjointed tale. As the pieces begin to gel, the reader comes to an understanding of who Taylor is and why the accident plays a part in her story. The five young people from the past catch up with the young people from the present and the two tales merge to create a deep sense of sadness and tragedy.

If only I could have felt as positive about the book as a whole. The second half did indeed redeem it, but as another reviewer wrote on Amazon, "the execution of Jellicoe Road was horrible and it’s not okay. I don’t forgive the author for the beginning. It should have done what beginnings of stories are supposed to do and explain, build, and draw me in. Not confuse the hell out of everyone. It’s not brilliant that it all 'comes to together in the end' and makes sense. It’s crap."

So, while I'm not disappointed that I read it, I could have done without the confusing entrance to the story and the convoluted extreme nature of some of the plot (with a serial killer on the loose, a boy who killed his father, a mother who abandoned her daughter, a teen who accidentally killed another teen, and several arsonists, it's far more than lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!).

No comments: