Believe it or not, May marks 12 years since I started blogging here at By Singing Light! To mark the occasion, I asked a couple of friends to write a guest post for me about their favorite reads from 2006. The second is from my pal Jenny who blogs at Reading the End. Somehow we only met a few years ago, but we’re clearly kindred spirits since the book she picked is one of my favorites too!
In the early years of (my) book blogging, books would show up in one place and then spread across the tiny book blogosphere like a wildfire. It would be like when the first season of Stranger Things came out and suddenly everyone seemed to be watching and talking about it. Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road was one of those books. It was originally published in Australia in 2006 and then in America in 2008, right in time to catch me as a baby blogger. (I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and I was emphatically not one of the cool kids.)
Taylor was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven years old, and she’s been at the nearby boarding school ever since. Her only real friend is a woman called Hannah who lives near the river and writes stories about children who used to live there in the 1980s. But Hannah has disappeared, and there’s a territory war in Jellicoe, and Taylor’s forced back into proximity with the boy who betrayed her three years ago.
Here’s the thing about Melina Marchetta, and this has been consistent across every book of hers (eight of them) that I’ve read. First you start her books and you think “okay, I could be interested in this.” Then you keep reading and you think “eh, actually, the characters are undergoing rather too much suffering for no good reason, and actually maybe I will stop reading this and read something else instead.” And then — if you persist — there comes a turning point, before which you are fine and normal and going about your day as usual; and after which you are a collection of exposed emotional nerve endings who wants to organize a major nationwide rally to ensure that none of the spiky angry characters in this book ever experience another moment’s turmoil.
It is quite a trick, and I have never elsewhere encountered anything quite like it. On the Jellicoe Road was my first exposure to Melina Marchetta, and as I said, I wanted to like it, so I could fit in with the cool crowd. (NB, this was ridiculous, because book bloggers then and now are overwhelmingly lovely welcoming generous people.) Halfway through, I was leaning towards DNFing. Halfway plus a few more pages through, I was prepared to turn my house into a sanctuary for wayward boarding school escapees. This is what Melina Marchetta does to you. Often it’s the characters who seem the nastiest that turn out to be the best ones of all.
And that’s, I guess, my pitch: Read Melina Marchetta and explain how she does this, because it’s quite a trick, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s almost a decade since I read On the Jellicoe Road, and I’m no closer to figuring out how Melina Marchetta does the things she does. But I know that I love it.
The happiest of blogging birthdays to my friend Maureen—who has been around longer than I have and who I should have known about and made friends with way sooner than I did—and thanks for letting me come on the blog to yammer about my Australian YA crush.
Jenny blogs and podcasts at Reading the End, where she rejoices in reading the ends of books before she reads the middle and no, she cannot be talked out of reading this way.