"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 30, 2014
Jellicoe Road
by Erin Cowles

In this holiday season where we are continually reminding ourselves to keep it simple, I come bearing good tidings of great complexity, a la Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road. It is full of layers and difficult to describe. It is a coming of age story, mystery, and war game all rolled into one. And it is a beautiful, messy little book.

Some things about seventeen-year-old Taylor Markham's life are straightforward. She is the leader of her boarding school's faction in the city's territory wars, and she has internal rebellion to quash and rival factions to fight.

But most of Taylor's life is complicated. Her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven, and the woman who found her and mentored her has just disappeared. There is an engrossing manuscript her mentor left behind about five teenagers that feels very personal. There are people in her town that have an unusual and inexplicable interest in her.

And, on top of it all, there is the intense and captivating Jonah Griggs, leader of a rival faction, with whom she has a complicated history.

As she works to make sense of these complicated elements in her life, Taylor learns about friendship, family and love.

This is a lovely book about the power love in all its varieties. It asked interesting questions about the costs and benefits of loving another person. The vulnerability love brings can simultaneously crush your soul and fill your life with joy and purpose. I like its message about letting people in, despite the risks.

I love the way Marchetta draws fully fleshed characters and captures the complex and powerful relationships between them. I have a weakness for authors that can create prickly characters and still make you care about them, and Marchetta has packed her book with them.

And I thoroughly enjoyed the way she could capture the pull between characters, platonic or otherwise, without spelling things out for you or descending into cheese or cliché.

I'll admit that it did get a little angsty for my taste, and I never fully invested in the territory wars, but I enjoyed the characters and mystery enough that it didn't matter very much.

The teens in this book do not share LDS standards. They drink, swear, and have sex. It isn't graphic, but it treats these activities as standard fare. There also violence, abuse, and drug use, and they are not treated as standard fare. I'm bumping up the target age to reflect these elements.

This book was first published in Australia, where it won the 2008 West Australia Young Readers Book Award for Older Readers. It won the prestigious Michael L. Printz award in 2009 when HarperTeen brought it to the US.

The book's complexity makes it a bit of an investment, but it is an investment worth making.

Read this book if...

  • You share Shrek's empathy with onions — this story is made for layer-lovers.

  • You like to be disoriented at the start of a book. This one drops you in the middle of the action and doesn't baby you into comprehension.

  • You want to get out of the the US, at least in your reading – this book is solidly and confidently from the great down under.

Target audience: Girls, ages 16 and up.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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