Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Written by: Melina Marchetta
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Pages: 419, hardcover
Series: Standalone
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I’m dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs – the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother – who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.



I’m honestly not sure how to describe this book, because it’s the kind of story you don’t want to know too much about when you go into it. You need to be thrown headfirst into Melina Marchetta’s beautiful, emotional prose and the occasionally confusing world of the territory wars at the Jellicoe School and work out the mysteries of the past along with Taylor Markham, our wonderfully flawed heroine.

Warning: you may need tissues.

On the Jellicoe Road tells two intertwined stories: that of Taylor, a girl abandoned by her mother when she was a child and one of the leaders in the Jellicoe School’s territory wars, and that of five close friends who attended the school fourteen or so years before the events of the story and the tragedy that befell them. Towards the middle of the book, the stories begin to connect. Basically, this book is an unfolding, a slow peeling off of layers revealing the truth not only about the past, but about the characters. And believe me, the characters are complex.

This was my second Melina Marchetta book; my first was her high fantasy Finnikin of the Rock. Both books re on the slow side, and require a lot of patience, but once you get to the heart of the story, they are very much worth it. During the first hundred or so pages, there were times I considering not finishing the book, but now that it’s over, I’m so glad I stuck it out. It was an extremely powerful reading experience and I will definitely be reading more Melina Marchetta in the future.


As I said before, the first one-third of the book is extremely confusing and difficult to get through. As I also said before, it is extremely worth getting through.


This is going to be a difficult section to write because, um, everything. What worked was everything.

Melina Marchetta really knows how to write a sentence that appears simple, but creeps into your emotions and just sort of destroys you. Examples:

“It’s funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that’s why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It’s not the pain they’re getting over, it’s the love.”

“My body becomes a raft and there’s this part of me that wants just literally to go with the flow. To close my eyes and let it take me. But I know sooner or later I will have to get out, that I need to feel the earth beneath my feet, between my toes – the splinters, the bindi-eyes, the burning sensation of hot dirt, the sting of cuts, the twigs, the bites, the heat, the discomfort, the everything. I need desperately to feel it all, so when something wonderful happens, the contrast will be so massive that I will bottle the impact and keep it for the rest of my life.”

“Hold my hand or I might disappear.”

The characters, as I’ve said before, are amazingly constructed. They all have shadows in their pasts and flaws and moments that absolutely make you love them. Even the more minor characters feel completely real, which is rare, especially in a pretty short book written mostly in first person. Taylor is sarcastic and vulnerable and tough and determined and I loved being in her head, even though it was sometimes difficult.

And the friendships, oh my god, the friendships! I’ve said before that my biggest weakness as a reader is “a group of somewhat-messed-up teenagers slowly becomes a family whose broken pieces fit together surprisingly well” and On the Jellicoe Road is one of my favorite examples of this trope. Like everything else in the book, the friendships are written in a convincing and deeply emotional way. (There’s romance too, if you’re into that.) (I was.)


I honestly cannot recommend this book enough. Definitely get it, and definitely have tissues at hand when you do. This is a layered, powerful book that explores themes of loss and forgiveness, friendship and belonging, in intricately beautiful and brutally heartwrenching ways. You don’t want to miss it.


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