In the space of just a few seconds, your whole life can change. Think about it—that's enough time to win the lottery, open an acceptance letter to college, get a phone call announcing that you've landed your dream job, or have your secret crush ask you to prom (okay, that last one's not really a life changing event, but it sure feels like it at the time).
But what if something happens that not only alters the course of your existence, but your family history and relationships, too? What if it actually drops a nuclear bomb all over your universe and forces you to rebuild from scratch? Welcome to the world of Melina Marchetta's 2006 novel Jellicoe Road (published in the U.S. in 2009), where the characters must totally rethink not just their futures, but who they are and where they belong as a result of life-altering occurrences. Sheesh. Talk about an identity crisis.
Take our heroine, Taylor Markham, for instance. She's spent the past six years haunted by the disappearance of her mother, who left her at a gas station when she was eleven and vanished into thin air. Things get really complicated, though, when Hannah, the woman who has cared for Taylor since, disappears as well, leading Taylor to ask some pretty hard questions about where she comes from, why her mother abandoned her, and where she goes from here. And that, Shmoop Sleuths, is where the mystery begins.
But wait—there's more: Along with Taylor's story, we also get fragments of a book Hannah is writing about five kids growing up in Jellicoe twenty years earlier. After losing their families in a horrific car crash, the surviving children band together to be each other's family, uniting around their common grief. There's some real ambiguity regarding their story, though, especially as Taylor begins to realize that they're not only real people, but connected to her own quest to find her mom. And so the plot thickens.
Apart from the book's fascinating story, it's easy to understand Marchetta's interest in the psychology and lives of teenagers, especially since she taught high school English in Australia for ten years before pursuing writing fulltime. Since making the switch, she's won some pretty major awards for her work, including the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Her first book, Looking for Alibrandi, not only captured multiple literary honors, it was made into an award-winning film.
The bottom line is this: Your first trip down Jellicoe Road is probably going to be pretty frustrating and confusing. As the story develops, it can be hard to see where one of the two stories ends and the other begins, or even how they're related to begin with. Stick with it, though, because this journey leads to an emotional conclusion that unites the narratives into one remarkable family saga. Consider it a chance to practice patience with confidence that you'll be amply rewarded.
Maybe you've been in the position of not knowing certain things about your past or having one or both parents absent from your life, or maybe you haven't. Regardless of your family situation, though, there's one thing you definitely share in common with Taylor, Hannah, and the rest of the characters in Jellicoe Road—friends that become your family when it seems like you've got nobody else.
Ever get the feeling that your friends "get you" more than the adults in your life? For that matter, have you ever felt like your friends are actually more your family than your actual blood relatives? At Jellicoe School, peer relationships are pretty much all Taylor has, whether it's with her BFFs Raffaela and Ben or mortal enemies like Richard. In the book's story from the past, the situation is even more extreme: The survivors of the Jellicoe Road car crash literally have only each other, and their bond becomes their entire world.
So whether you have a tight group of friends, a band of rivals, or a hardcore nemesis that just wants to see you go down, there's something for you to identify with in Taylor's story. Even if your mom is sitting next to you on the couch while you read.
Jellicoe Road Film Blog
Can't wait for a film version of Jellicoe Road? Check back with Marchetta's Tumblr page for updates as she shops and revises her screenplay and hopefully moves closer to making it happen.
Melina Marchetta, Writer
Check out Marchetta's personal blog for book reviews and thoughts on writing and her work.
"One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Melina Marchetta"
Marchetta talks with the Young Adult Library Services Association about communing with her characters, writing multi-generational stories, and what she was like in high school.
YA Highway: Melina Marchetta
Want to know how Jellicoe Road got started and how its original draft differs from the final product? Check out her talk with the young adult literature blog YA Highway.
ABC Book Club Interview
Get a tour of Marchetta's writing room and hear her about her writing process and love for playing guitar and composition notebooks.
Jellicoe Road Book Trailer
A student-created book trailer for Jellicoe Road.
Jellicoe Road Audiobook
Listen to clips from the audiobook of Jellicoe Road.
"Flame Trees," Cold Chisel
"Do you remember nothing stopped us on the field in our day?" Listen to the song that inspired the original five's adventures and plans and watch the very Jellicoe Road¬-¬esque video.
Taylor and the Boy in the Tree
Check out some Jellicoe Road fan art.
On the Jellicoe Road Book Cover
The original cover of Jellicoe Road from its Australian publication in 2006.