One day long ago, a terrible accident occurred on Jellicoe Road, "the prettiest road...ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la." The accident upended the lives of two unrelated families, and the survivors and those they came to love were to bear the scars of the experience.
A little over two decades later, seventeen-year-old Taylor Markham is soon to begin her final year as a student at Jellicoe School, a state-run facility located in the Australian bush, six hundred kilometers from Sydney. Taylor, who has been at the school ever since her mother abandoned her at a nearby convenience store six years earlier, is a House Leader and an influential player in the traditional territory wars between Jellicoe, the Townies who live in the area, and the Cadets who camp in the bush each summer. The residents of Jellicoe School are an eclectic mix that includes wards of the state, locals, and children of families who travel or for other reasons find it convenient to have their offspring cared for in a residential environment. Although absent parents are not unusual at Jellicoe, Taylor's complete lack of known familial connections is extreme; she has no idea at all who her mother and father are, and it is unnerving to her that she can find no proof of her existence before her abandonment. She does remember love, however, in scattered images, memories of riding on the shoulders of a man who must have been her father, and lying cuddled on a bed between the man and a woman who must have been her mother. There is also a boy who sits in a tree and talks to her in her dreams, and in these dreams she finds solace, because she feels like she belongs.
The adults in Taylor's life are uniformly evasive, striving to shelter her from the traumas of her past with the best of intentions. Desperate to find the truth about her identity, however, Taylor probes incessantly. She eventually embarks on a long-distance quest to find her mother. With the help of Jonas Griggs, her youthful counterpart in the Cadets who has a horrifying secret of his own, and the writings of Hannah, the inexplicably distant and ethereal woman who lives down the road from the school and has taken Taylor under her wing, Taylor slowly manages to unravel the mystery of who she is and her connection to the accident that happened so long ago, finally learning
...the history of her family, the Schroeders and the Markhams, who set out on their separate journeys that day not realizing the tragic ironies and joys of that collision of worlds on the Jellicoe Road.
Published in 2006, Jellicoe Road was the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It is a complex book with a serious tone, an intricately constructed plot, memorable characters, and plenty of action and drama. The third book rendered by Australian author Melina Marchetta, Jellicoe Road is notable for its unique setting, lyrical writing, and moving and at times heartrending narrative. At over four hundred pages and with a complicated story line, the work is challenging and comparatively long for a young adult novel, but the suspense created by the intriguing mysteries that intertwine and link the present with the past will sustain the interest of readers, who will find the resolution highly rewarding.