JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
I wanted to love this book. So many things about it tugged at me before I even read it. It’s set in Australia, a place you hear about in passing all the time, but that you never really get to know beyond “G’day, mate” and kangaroos. And the story centers on a fierce and vulnerable schoolgirl coping with mysteries and loss and first love, all at the same time–which sounds irresistible. But here’s the thing. I could never actually picture the setting. Couldn’t really get my bearings. Physical descriptions don’t take up much space in the book, which would be fine if we all had a mental image of that part of Australia–but we don’t!
What takes up space is Taylor Markham’s mental landscape. And there are things about Taylor that don’t add up. For a start, people at the Jellicoe school are always putting her in charge of things, even though she seems to lack the will (not to mention the focus!) to lead. She is driven to the point of mental breakdown by her worry about the disappearance of Hannah, the woman who rescued her when she was abandoned by her mother at a convenience store. She even ends up drowning a cat, for heaven’s sake!
But the story is really about Taylor’s search for her mother. The connection between the past and the present is rather beautifully bridged through a manuscript written by Hannah about a group of teens who went to the Jellicoe School in the eighties. This manuscript holds the key to Taylor’s own story. But I wish Marchetta had shown a little more restraint when she was ladling out the tragedies and violent deaths in this book! It seems that her idea of a hero is someone to whom horrible things keep happening over and over again. Talk about misery overload! Still, it’s a book that sticks with you, leaving an aftertaste so distinct that you know you’ll never forget it.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
If you like thinking while riding a rollercoaster, read this!
UNWIND is a young adult novel that doesn’t just want to take you on a rollercoaster ride. It also wants to make you think.
It’s set in a future that seems so close you can almost reach out a hand and touch it. With enough spin, Shusterman suggests, almost any idea can be made to seem reasonable–even retroactively terminating pregnancies when the “babies” are 13 or 14 years old. Death can be dressed up as “the divided state”and sold as a viable solution for everybody involved, if you just tell harried parents of difficult children that every single part of the “unwound” child will still technically be “alive”.
While the ethical and biological questions are a fascinating and slippery can of worms, UNWIND can also be enjoyed purely as a fast-paced, action-packed adventure with unpredictable twists and turns. If I were to criticize the novel at all, I would have to point to a slight lack of depth in the development of the romance between the main character, a teen with a combustible temper, and his sidekick, a girl whose musical talent isn’t quite enough to justify the continued expense of her existence as a ward of the state.
If your reading tastes run dark and cerebral, this should definitely be on your ‘to-read’ list, whether you’re a young adult or or one with more miles on your odometer.