I only picked this book because it popped up on PaperbackSwap and I recognized the title as one of those highly-regarded, prize-winning "literary" Young Adult novels that are supposed to be life-changing and glorious and moving and representative of the heights of quality to which Young Adult literature can attain.
You may gather from this preamble that I was not all that impressed.On the Jellicoe Road
isn't a bad book. It's... interesting, if you find it interesting to read about teenagers! Having drama! About fucked-up parents! And secrets! About their past! And there's this one boy! In a tree!
Yeah, the boy in a tree is a dream about the main character's father and it's all very symbolic and whatever.
So, basically it's a contemporary YA novel about a girl named Taylor who was abandoned by her mother when she was eleven and has grown up at a boarding school. She's now a senior (or a "Year Twelve" or whatever they call them in Australia) and has just been put in charge of her house by a shadowy cabal of fellow students, which starts the book off with a lot of adolescent politics and power games leading to the annual "war" between the Jellicoe students, the Townies, and the Cadets in which Taylor is supposed to be leader and supreme commander of her Jellicoe kiddies. Mostly she spends the time whining, having asthma attacks, emoting about her tormented past and a mother who evidently suffered from all sorts of drug and mental health issues, and trying to uncover what happened to her father and some other people her parents knew. There's one teacher at the Jellicoe school named Hannah whom Taylor kind of sort of looks up to as a role model, and Hannah suddenly disappears, which ramps up Taylor's abandonment issues to eleventy, and since she's already a teenager and therefore living in a universe from which the gravity of her own self-importance allows no light to escape, she pretty much treats all her friends and the younger children at her school like shit, even though for some inexplicable reason they all look up to her.
I didn't like Taylor much. Yeah, she's had some rough breaks. But at the point where she's screaming at eleven-year-olds who have had their own rough breaks, not that this would ever occur to her, I lose most of my sympathy for her.
The whole "territory war" premise, in which the students, the Townies, and the Cadets wage a mock war complete with rules and treaties and things, all passing under the radar of all the responsible adults, was just a pretext to keep throwing Taylor together with Jonah, the leader of the Cadets, the brooding, dangerous, but secretively sensitive boy with his own tormented past who just needs the healing power of poontang as much as Taylor needs the healing power of peen. At the point where he and Taylor have the inevitable sex, the writing is just short of turgid with lots of "inside" and "oneness" metaphors and as graphic as a "literary" Young Adult novel will allow, so it's mostly about Feelings! And breath! And also kind of painful (for Taylor). Like giving teen readers a little taste of the forbidden apple and trying to make it sound kind of cool and exciting but also a little bit scary and vague, which I suppose is exactly how most teenagers view sex before they've tried it.
I can see why teenagers, particular younger ones, would go breathless for this book, but I'm too jaded and also, I have to say, this is a very girly book. By which I mean, Taylor's breathless first-person POV running at a constant high pitch of intense emotionalism is obviously meant to resonate with Taylor's peer group, and all of her actions and concerns and preoccupations, she goes about dealing with in a very teen girl way, which is fine but so outside my mindset that I couldn't relate. This is not a book for me.
The writing was pretty good for a YA novel, and the story eventually becomes one of adults hiding secrets (surprise!) which are finally dragged into the light and Taylor and Griggs getting some closure on their hurtful pasts, and everyone essentially having a group hug at the end, though not without a bittersweet denouement. It is possible that, boy or not, I would have really liked this book when I was a teen myself. I'd still probably recommend this book for, you know, people who like this kind of book.