Melina Marchetta’s coming-of-age novel is a refreshingly mature young adult adventure that captures the feeling on the crux of growing up and watching all that was familiar with the world shift into something new.
On the Jellicoe Road transports the reader to a world caught between the dreams of childhood and the horrors of reality, a boarding school where the students wage war with the Cadets and Townies, and the teachers never stick around long enough to stop them. In her last year at the school, Taylor Markham is given responsibility she never wanted, and must decide where her priorities lie when the truth about her identity and the people she thought she knew start to unravel.
The novel switches between two timelines, which are beautifully balanced. Taylor’s story is the main focus, and the reader is guided into the second timeline in a way that feels organic and doesn’t detract from either side. The two stories overlap and weave through each other without blatantly pointing out the connections, instead allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. The payoff for the links between the timelines is incredibly rewarding, something that was carefully planned by Marchetta.
Marchetta succeeds in creating a setting vivid enough that it feels like its own world, but is still tethered in reality. While the Jellicoe School isn’t the happiest place, there’s a certain warmth of homliness attached to it that disappears the instant Taylor ventures into the outside world. Even in different timelines, the atmosphere of the school is as tangible as ever, making it easy to get lost in the Jellicoe Road.
Taylor stands out as a protagonist. She is incredibly strong and opinionated, and watching her grow and mature is extremely satisfying. But what really defines this novel is the theme of kids having to deal with things far beyond what should be expected of them, and the impact it has on them. The majority of the characters in On the Jellicoe Road have suffered great losses or gone through terrible ordeals, and what this novel does so well is explore the different ways people cope with trauma. No one is without flaw, but everyone is capable of improvement, and On the Jellicoe Road shows that it’s never too late to change.