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Backshelf Book Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Dusted off from the backshelf today is a YA contemporary classic – Jellicoe Road.

Backshelf Book Reviews

Backshelf Book Reviews is an RBR original feature that in which I FINALLY get around to books we’ve been meaning to read for like ever. I take suggestions, so please leave some in the comments!

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Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

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jellicoe road melina marchetta book review

Title & Author: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary, Mystery

Release Date: August 28th, 2006

Series: Standalone

Publisher: HarperTeen

How I Got the Book: Gifted


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.”

Emotional Journey

I’ve actually read 3 of Marchetta’s other books (Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca and Finnikin of the Rock) and completely loved them all. Why I let Jellicoe Road drown in the sea of my TBR pile, I have no idea.

Thanks to a new friend, I was gifted Jellicoe Road and let that be the push I needed to get it together.

I’m not sure how she does it, but in each of her books Marchetta draws from deep emotional reservoirs and pours out feeling and rawness into each of her books. This book is no different.

Taylor has been abandoned by her family to the Jellicoe School. The only person she can rely on has disappeared and she’s left to face the responsibility and burden of the yearly territory wars with the Townies and Cadets. As she searches for her missing friend, she uncovers more than she imagined about herself and her family…

Jellicoe Road is a very disorienting book to read at first. It’s told from Taylor’s point of view but also includes bits and pieces of another story (set in italics, so you can keep them separate). But it’s confusing at first, and I got lost a bit trying to figure out what was going on.

Then the book is set in Austrailia, so there’s some different phrases that caught me off guard. Plus add on terms like Townies (rich kids from their town) and Cadets (basically ROTC types) and the weird rivalry that takes place between Jellicoe students and them.

I was frustrated a lot at first because I wanted to just dig in. This book does not let you sink into itself. You have to fight for comprehension (which when it does come is swift) and then you realize each page is taking you further and further into a unique and surprising place.

I’m not sure how she does it, but Marchetta guided me to these dark places and hit me with powerful punch lines that bruised me and yet I never felt weighed down by her words. Instead they lift up and cast light on the darkness.

Readers might also appreciate that the book does include a romance but not at the cost of the plot. It’s barely even used to cause tension, and yet its a strong point in the story. I loved rooting for this couple!

I loved the sense of discovery. Taylor learned about herself and hidden history that shaped her and reformed her. And even if you feel you’ve lived a blessed/privileged life, the story’s still so relatable because boiled down it’s about figuring out the person you want to be and not letting your baggage and struggles get in the way of that.


If you’re ready for an emotional journey with a deep, brooding mystery then buckle up. Jellicoe Road packs a pleasant punch you’ll be sore but thankful for days later – so very much recommended.

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.
  • Paula Novack

    Thanks for the review! I bought this book so long ago and haven’t read it yet.

  • Terrill Harris Rosado

    I have done the opposite of you and have only read Jellicoe Road. I loved it, of course, but still haven’t read anything else by Melina Marchetta. I think the only thing stopping me is that I have so many books on my tbr list that are instantly available to me and I would have to actually purchase these books. I often get YA books from our local library and only purchase them if they are extraordinary and I want to own my own copy. Unfortunately, our library only owns Jellicoe Road. Based on your love for all of Marchetta’s books, I may just break down and actually purchase some. I’m not sure why I haven’t purchased Jellicoe Rd., b/c it really was amazing.

  • AnneBennett

    I was aware, when I read this book, just how special of an author Marchetta is. I was amazed.