Red cover of Jellicoe Road with pink and red flowers

About the Book

Title: Jellicoe Road
Published: 2006
Swoonworthy Scale: 10

Cover Story: Not Just a Pretty Flower
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Prosetastic
Bonus Factors: Mysterious Loner Dude, Boarding School, Territory Wars
Relationship Status: Eternal Love

Cover Story: Not Just a Pretty Flower

I’m cheating a bit here–I wrote this review in 2010, but I’m using the new cover (released in 2021) because this artwork is so much more deserving of the pages beneath it. Yes, we’ve still got poppies, which are an important element in the story, but this illustration is so much more elegant and, like, literary-looking. I don’t shizz about the language of flowers, but I can tell you that these poppies are screaming, “THIS BOOK IS A CLASSIC THAT WILL ROCK YOU TO YOUR CORE. PICK IT UP IMMEDIATELY.”

The Deal

Although it may look like your average scenic route, Jellicoe Road is a magical place that, like Gretchen Weiners’ hair, is full of secrets. And for Taylor Markham, those mysteries include the key to her past, present and future. See, when Taylor was a kid, she was abandoned on Jellicoe Road by her mother, and she’s been raised among other orphans at the Jellicoe School. Now that she’s finally a senior, Taylor has been chosen to serve as the head of her house and given the responsibility of looking after the younger students and, more importantly, waging the summer territory wars against the Cadets (boys in military training, kinda like the Australian version of ROTC) and the Townies (the kids who live in town). In spite of the weight of these duties, Taylor finds herself deeply disturbed by the sudden departure of her mentor, Hannah, and the manuscript she left behind, which tells the tragic tale of five people who met their destinies on Jellicoe Road. Haunted by this enigmatic story, Taylor begins a quest to find out what happened to the five (Fitz, Jude, Narnie, Webb and Tate) in the hopes of discovering the truth about her own identity. Complicating matters further (as if the girl didn’t have enough crap to deal with!) is the fact that the head of the cadets is none other than Jonah Griggs, a boy who shares a piece of Taylor’s dark past.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Taylor Markham is one tough cookie, you guys. In fact, she kind of scares me sometimes. I’d probably stand nervously by her locker and, as she rounded the corner of the hall, totally lose my nerve to talk to her, let alone give her my BFF charm, because she’s so dang BAD ASS. Scarred by her elusive, beautiful mother, Taylor has pretty much walled herself away from intimacy with anyone, and her guarded toughness only makes girls like me want to be her friend even more, especially cos it’s obvious girlfriend needs a marathon heart-to-heart session over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Fortunately, she’s already got a BFF named Raffy (who i also love love LOVE), but Taylor could definitely use a few more bosom buddies. It’s painful to read about her tortured longing for a sense of family, a feeling of belonging somewhere, and lines like this

Because people with that much spirit frighten me the hell out of me. They make me want to be a better person when I know it’s not possible.

just made me want to reach out and grab her in a hug, even though she’d probably beat me up afterwards.

Swoonworthy Scale: 10

My reading list been experiencing a bit of a dry spell in the swoon department lately, and Jellicoe Road brought enough rain to float Noah’s ark. LORD ALMIGHTY is there some Epic Level Hotness in this book. The chemistry between Taylor and Jonah is absolutely scorching from the first minute Taylor lays eyes on Jonah’s… boots (let’s just say, their reunion is NOT friendly, i.e. did someone order a hot heaping plate of TENSION?!!). I’ll be sighing more over Jonah in the bonus factor section, but I can tell you right now, their relationship has immediately leaped into my top five YA romances of all time. Y’ALL THAT IS A SERIOUS PROMOTION. There’s obviously some sizzling physical attraction between the two, but what makes Taylor and Jonah’s connection so powerful is the tragic pasts they share and their subsequent struggles to keep hope from cracking through their mutually cynical exteriors.

Talky Talky: Prosetastic

I’ve read two of Marchetta’s previous books, and while I enjoyed the pants out of them, I found Jellicoe Road to be her most beautifully written work so far. While all of the characters are carefully and authentically developed, Taylor’s voice especially rings true in a way that made my heart soar with her triumphs and break with her descents into darkness. Here’s just one example of the gut punches you can expect from Marchetta’s writing:

I fight hard to stay afloat and suddenly I remember the feeling of fear in my mother’s touch. Some say it’s impossible because you remember nothing when you’re five seconds old but I promise you this: I remember the tremble in my mother’s body when the midwife first placed me in her arms. I remember the feeling of slipping between those fingers. It’s like she never really managed to grab hold of me with a firmness that spoke of never letting go. It’s like she never got it right.

GAH! I know, right?!! My only complaint about the structure of this book are the flashbacks to the five kids in Hannah’s manuscript. When you first begin the story, it’s not clear who exactly these kids are or why their parts are always written in italics. Plus I had a hard time keeping up with who was who (blame the Australian names, aka “Ooooh, Tate is a GIRL?!!”). In spite of some early bumps, Marchetta manages to skillfully weave their lives into Taylor’s, and the end result was definitely worth my initial confusion.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

Picture of Jordan Catalano, a hot brooding stoner, in My So-Called Life

Jonah Griggs is totally the new Cameron Quick, you guys. AND YOU KNOW I DON’T SAY THAT LIGHTLY. He’s brooding, he’s fit (thank you, military push-ups!) and most importantly, he’s a total enigma. Other boys fear him, while girls constantly offer up their phone numbers, but Jonah remains an island off the coast of Super Hot Mystique. And, unlike Jordan “I can’t read good” Catalano, Jonah’s secrets only made me fall in love with him more. Warning: you should consider every page that he’s on to be highly flammable.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

Even though the Jellicoe School is lacking in certain boarding school qualities, such as rich kids and designer clothes, it more than makes up for it with the Harry-Potter-style house system and major dramz.

Bonus Factor: Territory Wars

Let me break this down for you right here: a territory war is like capture the flag, except WAY MORE EPIC. The Cadets, the Townies and the Jellicoe School kids have been playing this game for years, and every inch of space, down to specific trees, is fought over by the three groups and carefully mapped out. The extremely complex rules are outlined in a purple rule book and argued over extensively by the three group leaders during secret negotiation meetings. Students are kidnapped, individuals are ambushed, and it’s basically the coolest thing EVER. In fact, I totally want to set up a real life Territory Wars because I am dying to play. Who’s with me?!! We could fight the hipsters and take over a bar! Water balloons may be involved.

Relationship Status: Eternal Love

If you couldn’t already tell, I AM IN L-O-V-E WITH THIS BOOK (that includes you, Jonah! p.s. CALL ME). And you should be, too, which is why I’m adding it to my top YAngelism tools. This book is brimming with two of my favorite YA elements, swoons and mischief, but more importantly, it’s a masterfully written, heartbreakingly beautiful story about a girl struggling not only to find herself, but to embrace herself. The minute I finished the last page, I wanted to read it all over again (and I actually did go back and read my favorite parts a few more times cos we’re talking serious case of TEABS here). I’m dying to take all of you with me back to Jellicoe Road, so if you know what’s good for you, READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY. And then sign up to be on my territory wars team cos we are totally gonna kick the crap outta those hipsters.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my own damn money. I received neither money nor cocktails in exchange for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.