a known wow

In anticipation of World Book Night and the pleasure of handing out copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, Natalya read it for the first time. (And really, wouldn’t have handed it to her any earlier.) She handed it back to me, “Wow. I only have one word for this one: Wow!” I smiled, because that is a good word for the experience of the read. I hope those reluctant readers who receive their copy will find a love of reading and an obsession for good reads.

The Absolutely True Story is a fail-safe recommendation for teen reads, boy or girl, but especially boy. I’ve a few others I consider good ideas as well: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Marcello and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork… and really any of the books by these authors.

What are your fail-safe recommendations?–books and/or authors?

upon this rock i will build…

I had already been warned that Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock would be a departure from her usual fare. Not a contemporary realist drama, though still imbued with magical sensibility, Finnikin is a fantasy novel of the flavor of a medieval realm . What I wasn’t quite ready for was what a departure Finnikin of the Rock would be from many of its counterparts in the genre.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

(first published Viking/Penguin (Australia) w/ a gorgeous cover, 2008)

I read the First Candlewick Press Edition w/ this cover (r), 2010.

399 pages, hardback.

Read because I love Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road and plan to read all her books.

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she is not what she seems — and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.~publisher’s comments

This is one where I believe the dust jacket’s allure to be tantalizing enough and paired with the knowledge that Melina Marchetta is a talented Writer, the book should be read. I would only add that it is listed Young Adult and youthful, however mature, readers might should leave it on the teen shelf until you yourself are one a few years—this due to the inferred violence, to the sexual content, and with regards to machinations better understood by more mature audiences.

The rest of this post is my contemplating a feminist perspective in Finnikin of the Rock, a draft wherein I actually keep it spoiler-free (odd, I know). Mind, it is a draft, and it is a bit lengthy: regardless, thought I would put it out here.

**************

working title may be (?): blood and swords

I had already been warned that Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock would be a departure from her usual fare. Not a contemporary realist drama, though still imbued with magical sensibility, Finnikin is a fantasy novel of the flavor a medieval realm. What I wasn’t quite ready for was what a departure Finnikin of the Rock would be from many of its counterparts in the genre.

Many contemporary Young Adult fantasy books feature strong female protagonists and characters. Yet in an effort to create vulnerability (flaws) and/or romance, at least one male character must feature as stronger, more capable and/or more powerful, certainly more masculine. Another portrayal of a strong female character isn’t really all that female, shedding her gender roles and feminine appearance in favor of the realm’s more “plausible” figure of a hero; this may or may not include sexual aggression. In an effort not to subvert their own feminist leanings, the end of the novel may include a romance-denied. She favors a ride off into the sunset alone. Or there is some necessary emasculation of the dark, smoldering, and unaffected who is suddenly on his knees begging declaring his undying devotion to this goddess who was right all along (who can tire of that image?).

Marchetta writes a different feminist experience.

There were many times while reading Finnikin of the Rock where I wondered if it was mistitled, where I felt it should be called Evanjalin of the Mount. Evanjalin is such a tiresomely stubborn character, all-knowing, all-powerful, petulant, and conniving—it was a wonder why she saw Finnikin as more than just a tool. Her ire over Finnikin having sex with whore seemed to come out of nowhere. Marchetta is surely a better story-builder than that?! Yet, as in any typical world-building scenario, patience is required, even if the author propels the reader with a periodical quickening of the pace and pulse. Like Jellicoe Road, Marchetta will reward the reader, but those who are not willing to wade through probable confusion and frustration will set the book aside. Marchetta builds complicated characters. They are her worlds she is building. The characters would not only be developed and spared cliché as much as possible, but they have to be consistent. They are wonderfully and frustratingly consistent, even as Finnikin of the Rock would play with the idea that one might not be who we think they are should be.

The novel begins with our conduit: Finnikin, who is exceptional (good genes and determination; well-resourced; fated for greatness). He is also haunted and terribly conflicted. As with all the exiles of Lumatere, he harbors guilt, dwells in regret.  But since he comes from a position of privilege, he has responsibilities, an added weight and an added motivator. He is our guide (and a bit of an avatar). Though quite logical, making decisions from intellect rather than emotion, he is not wholly separated from the magic of his youth. What initially appears logical, is still hard to explain, when Finnikin and his companion Sir Topher head to the edge of the realm at a Priestess’ summons; which sets the story in motion.  Finnikin and male company are pieces moved beneath the direction of women (and girls). The powerful Forest Dwelling woman Seranonna curses Lumatere, but also makes a small “prophecy” of Finnikin beforehand (which of course complicates matters). After meeting Evanjalin, she unabashedly takes the lead—and by whatever means necessary. She is certainly a character determined to do things on her own terms—at least, as long as is possible. Most of the women in Finnikin of the Rock are like Evanjalin in that they are determined to live by their own terms. Many suffer at the hands of men, but they refuse to stay down. They are resolved, and empowered.*

There is a benefit to using familiar social systems when creating worlds in Fantasy. Less work, one. And you can set out a patriarchal system and proceed to criticize, subvert, invert, whatever, in relative safety. Rare is the feminist take that imitates the gender roles, the physicality, psyche, expectations, the lore, ideologies, while it simultaneously redefines and reinforces them. (no, the oxymoron is not so readily apparent).

In Finnikin of the Rock, what it is to be female is not denied, nor viewed as weakness or source of shame; at least not by the women; and not by the text, which holds the perspective that says a female is already born powerful and she has always held a place of honor and importance in the human race. The physical differences as females are used as a seat of power: menstruating, birthing. So are the roles, expectations, and affiliations: traditional roles as figures of earth lore, hearth, and community, compassion, spirituality.

Marchetta creates possibilities for her readers in the familiarity of the human and cultural conditions. She does not devitalize either gender by stripping them of their sexuality or home or mother in order to model power and self-possession. It is in those sources where their true strengths lie. Indeed, when they are stripped of these is when they are viewed as vulnerable. The Lumaterans are exiled. Marchetta would bring them home and heal all that has been stripped of them, give them a new beginning in a historically significant place. They would give them back what they have been denied.

So the women in Finnikin of the Rock are substantial, but they are not without need or desire of men.

“It seems to me that you hate all men.”

“Never presume to know my needs or who warms my bed! And if you believe it is men I hate, you are wrong. I despise those who use force and greed as a means of control. Unfortunately for your gender, such traits are found more often in the hearts of men than women.” (388)

A good feminist read, in my opinion, is where the males are not made to suffer literarily as women have in order to empower female characters. Both genders wrestle with place and pride, but not the degradation of nature or role. It feels healthy to argue it out, and healthy to portray both sides as equally foolish and equally respectable.  But of the males, it is perhaps Finnikin of the Rock who has the greatest uphill battle; “a motherless son,” as he is referred to.

Though Finnikin is not inexperienced with women, he is the most ignorant of the males represented (at the beginning). This is in part due to his formative years spent without a mother figure in the home where men dominated the landscape (the Guard/Sir Topher, the First Man). He wasn’t raised in the matriarchal section of Lumatere with the Monts, or the Earth-lorish women of the Forest Dwellers. He didn’t have a woman, whether mother or sister in the home who bled monthly. He was held in a world of men that didn’t talk about such things, where grown men blush when menstruating is mentioned. He doesn’t firstly consider that a family might sacrifice their daughters to swift execution so as to not leave them vulnerable to a sexually tortured existence. When the question of who would be killed to punish the living offender, he answered, “male.” Fortunately, he is curious and he retains information and tries to learn from error. The text doesn’t deride him, Finnikin is its champion. Finnikin is the one who walks between the past and future, the children and adults, the men and the women, the irrational and the rational.

I’m not sure it is in spite of, or because of Evanjalin that he is so likeable. Just the same, Marchetta finds a resolution that honors both of her strong protagonists. She doesn’t sacrifice the one gender or person for the sake of the other. And her solution doesn’t just come out of nowhere. When it comes to outside expectation and inside self-definition, Finnikin of the Rock is saturated in the exploration. It is embodied in the title. Finnikin who is of the people of the Rock of Lumatere, the son of the legendary Captain Trevanion. Finnikin who becomes an advocate for the Lumateran exiles, who is fated, destined, who embodies much more than a singular dream of a farm or apprenticeship. Finnikin who has his own ambitions, own view of himself.

Expectation (Fated) is not a conversation limited to the gender of the character. In any individual, expectations have nuances: birth placement; social status; education; coloring; physical, emotional, intellectual capabilities… In Finnikin of the Rock, characters encounter countless suppositions within every prescribed nuance. Necessarily assumptions are investigated; through exploration, ideas of malleability are reinforced into the defining. Does being a male member of the Guard mean you are heterosexual? (no.) Does being a wife and mother imply that you are not actively involved in politics? (hardly.) Can a role or expectation be interpreted in an un-usual way and still not violate the purposed role/expectation?

Marchetta takes advantage of her writing venue. Like many a good Fantasy, the prophecy, the directions in how to break the curse on Lumatere, is suitably vague. Interpretations abound as to what Seranonna actually meant. How is risurdus translated? Who is the risurdus? Who will be what? Do they even want to be who they will be?—or expected to be.

If one wants to be who they are expected to be, what might stand in their way? I suppose it seems absurd a question. If you are expected, fated to be something/someone in particular and you want to be that person, why wouldn’t you? Say that there are people who would support you every step of the way and makes certain all comes to fulfillment? Finnikin of the Rock doesn’t find the question absurd. Beside the presence of Perspective and Interpretation, people need to be able to choose who they are.

[Finnikin] shook his head bitterly. “The gods make playthings of us, but I would like to have some control over the events of my life.”

“Have you not done things according to your own free will, Finnikin?” the priest-king asked. (310)

In Finnikin of the Rock, cultural expectation and self-definition, fate and free-will, they require two hands, more than one side. It’s hardly simple. There is great risk and courage and sacrifice. But there is real possibility. I like a novel with an empowered female, Fantasy genre or no. A reader may or may not want to be one of them, but an escape from limitations/restriction in reality is usually a pleasurable afternoon read. Rarely do they fuel possibility; that perhaps within the structure of our own society (person or culture or family), we might be spared self-loathing in order to pursue empowerment, escape oppression. Readers are encouraged to consider all their advantages, maybe even the very ones others might consider a disadvantage.

Who you are destined to become and who you choose to become is woven with the question of what are you willing to fight for? “We live. […] We want to live and we do anyfing to make that happen. That’s the difference between us and others.” (258) Froi is ethnically a Lumateran, orphaned and with no memory of Lumatere when Finnikin identifies him. When asked, he has no investment in Lumatere, his interests are purely survival of self. There is not a land or a people he is willing to die for. He understands that a choice exists, is inherent, even if others might not readily see it. Just because he is born one something doesn’t mean he has to honor it, nor does he have to honor that which is expected of him—it could or could not be more fulfilling, but he is conscious of having a choice. His guides would show him what they think the best way is (0ut of love), but in the end it is Froi’s decisions that fulfill or deny—to an extent. There are the inescapable (whether greater Beings and/or circumstances, or personal and very real limitations).

Evanjalin or Finnikin or other has a responsibility given and/or felt. How might they take ownership of their future, of their bodies, of their spirit? Unlike Froi, what does it look like to put others interests before your own and still find joy and satisfaction with being yourself? When aren’t you inextricably linked to another? (was that question comforting or a threat?)

The heroes, the strength in the invincible characters that manipulate the course of the story are not interested in morphing into something/-one other (assimilating), but in finding themselves, becoming whole and fully realized.—this seems to occur in the presence of a loved one or in a community beautifully enough [sorry, rugged individualism]. If something would be denied them (whether male or female, man or woman, boy or girl), they will find a way to deal with it without compromising that which means most—Life. Becoming who they were born and re-born, dreamed and re-dreamed, interpreted and re-interpreted, over and over, to be.

In order for choice to hold hands with fate or expectation, Marchetta offers other visions of plausible outcomes to the reader. Finnikin of the Rock does not reassure the reader of the most romantic outcome. In novels where the twist is that the female protagonist rides off into a future adventure alone, there is still often a trace of promise in the imaginings. I think it is a savvy author who allows the reader to imagine her heroine reuniting with her lover or even finding a more worthy one. For Finnikin, within the purview of the story’s pages, clearly presenting more than one possible interpretation of a good future to each (central) character is necessary to honoring both the male and female protagonists equally. (I would not limit myself to Finnikin and Evanjalin here.) Marchetta doesn’t send one on a downward spiral, demonize them, in order to clear the field or promote another character’s worth. She is frustratingly hopeful and fair with each of her central characters. Each work out their own way individually or in community (via advice and debate). Their most desired future/fate may depend on another, but if that other would deny them, they would still determinedly move forward. With their priorities firmly set, their desires and their life within their grasp, they make use of time and human resiliency. There is no doubt that regardless of the grieving involved, each character would find happiness. But Marchetta is kind enough not to leave us wondering, not on one important point anyway. After all, there is the need on the part of the people of Lumatere (and the reading audience) for Finnikin to finish his journey. He would guide us to our destination; which is a look at what a male might look like as a man of Lumatere–and what a female looks like as a woman.

******

* But then, so are the men. It is lovely. Must be a human trait.

this song is for you

7124053a little wanting song by Cath Crowley

I read the U.S. Printing: Knopf, 2010.

265 pages.

Novel was first published in Australia in 2005 by Macmillan

with the title Chasing Charlie Duskin.

A Little Wanting Song

It’s just a little wanting song

It won’t go on for all that long

Just long enough to say

How much I’m wishing for

Just a little more

I had read a review or two on Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song and was intrigued, but not too motivated.  I usually leave the music-centric reads to the husband. I was in the Library the other day and it came to mind just the same. If they had it in, maybe I would pick it up for Sean.  It sat in the  Library basket a few days. I picked it up Tuesday morning-ish and finished it at 1145 pm. Yes, this is a beginning to an apology, and an overall admittance to my idiocy. I’m sorry Cath Crowley, and sorry book reviewers who had nothing but raves for their experiences with the read. I am an idiot for putting this read off and shoving it down the TBR list where it was precariously perched to begin with.

An explanation as to my usual avoidance of Music Fiction. I love music, I do. I can even read music, and my singing in the shower is exceptional. And one of these times I would like to learn the guitar.

Like many adolescents I did listen to music most every waking hour and wished they’d quit play the Rembrandts on every station after I learned to drive. I mostly listened to country or pop music, though some alternative began to sneak in. I really did not discover the music that presently informs me until college, nor did I really go to any shows or learn any useful trivia for parties until then and after. My familial history involves old country music via dad and my mom grew up on Polka and American Bandstand (she will pretty much listen to anything now) and my brother had a Lost Boys soundtrack that I pretty much stole—no one touched his Def Leppard tape.

So my adolescence didn’t come with a soundtrack and the closest teen outing to a show was when two of my male classmates thought it would be great if I would go to a White Zombie concert with them in Dallas. There was a speculative gleam in their baby blues that I can now identify, but back then I registered as a “best not” sort of feeling. I think I may have missed out on a foolishly good time.

There is something a bit ‘too cool’ about music fiction, especially in Young Adult Lit. Then there is some envy. But primarily, the connections the characters are making to music, or are driven by, do not resonate with me. There is a glamour or sophistication amidst all the grit of these novels with which I haven’t the interest. The soul of the book doesn’t surface for me.  Maybe I haven’t given them a chance.

A response to a little wanting song:

Cath Crowley’s A little wanting song is unarguably a book saturated with music: music notes/keys as settings, band/song references often used similes or metaphors (“I gave them a look with a little attitude, though. Sort of like Shirley Manson, the singer from garbage, that time she lost it onstage” (19)), some of Charlie’s lyrics are included…

What is beautiful about Crowley’s music novel is how often it in itself reads like a song. The prose are lyrical, rhythmic and pretty; and poignant. What is lovely about Crowley’s story is that it doesn’t overreach and it settles for nothing less than Artistry in style and voice. This is Lit, not forgettable pulp writing Hollywood vignettes.

The characters and their stories create a lovely and familiar ache. Their stories are profoundly human, and they resonate.

Rose doesn’t want to become like her mother, getting pregnant before ever getting away, stuck in a small town going no where, reading magazines instead of books. Rose is intelligent, loves school, and has ambitions. She wants desperately to get away to the city where she can pursue her dreams.

Charlie (Charlotte) wants, too. She wants friends. She wants her dad to come back to life. It is a delightful aspect to the story that Charlie’s mother and grandmother talk to her. But they are more present and active than the still living Mr. Duskin’s is. At one point in the story the (paternal) Grandfather says “We have to [make new memories]. If you can’t do that, then you die” (98). The dead continue living in the memories, as do the living.  The act of living creates memories, and memories verify one’s existence.

Charlie: I want a whole lot more. I want someone to talk to. I want someone who can fix things when they’re broken. I want to scream and have someone come running down the hall in their slippers, out of breath with worry. […] The world has lost its ears today. I’m screaming and no one can hear me. (141)

Rose’s best friend and Charlie’s romantic interest, Dave Robbie may be too cool. He may be just too much sugar. He is wonderful. And his relationship with his dad …

Luke, Rose’s boyfriend, and overall troublemaker is the least developed character of the three, but we are limited for a long time by Rose’s narration where he is concerned. It is the later Charlie narratives that he is pulled from cliché/device and confusion. Throughout, however, there is little doubt he is a good foil for Rose, and an excellent conflict.

Charlie writes a wonderful song for Rose and Luke (227), here is the chorus:

She can’t start with him again

He’s got the end of her

He can’t give her ocean

And he can’t give her her

Every character drawn has a longing. Their venues in which to explore differ. Rose uses science to make sense of the world. Charlie uses music. Mrs. Butler uses domesticity.  Dave and cars. You want for them, and for yourself, and the pain of it feels like living (not dying).

a little wanting song has humor.

I told Luke and Dave about Mum getting pregnant before she was married. They looked at me, burgers halfway to their mouths. “Unbelievable.” Luke said. “They did it in a car?”

“What sort of car was it?” Dave asked.

“A Holden.”

“That’s a good car, Rosie,” he said through a mouthful of food.

The only thing that mattered to Dave was that they did it in a great car. The only thing that mattered to Luke was that they did it at all. My best friends have their secrets written on T-shirts. (49)

It has lovely images.

“He followed her like a long dress dragging in the dirt” (32).

“I’m her turned inside out.” (87).

“That music folded Louise in two and put her in a drawer” (121).

a little wanting song is told in alternating first person narratives of Charlie and Rose. At times a snippet of a conversation at the end of one narrative is revisited in the next character’s providing a differing perspective. Just the same, the novel is limited to the two voices, and their perceptions of the world and its events. But they are determined to find their way, courageously taking the risks to pursue life, to not sit out or follow suit. In their pursuits realizations are met and neither character is left to their own charms or vices.

Despite the differences that have long kept them to their sides of the fence, similarities are drawn between Rose and Charlie. Both have images of their mother and make the inevitable evaluative comparisons. “I feel like we’re chasing each other. I’m chasing her to find the rest of myself and she’s chasing me to show me who I was meant to be.” ~Charlie about her mother (36); easily applicable to Rose and her mother’s relationship. Both long for parental approval (the parental relationships in this YA novel are refreshing). Both want, and know action is required are pretty much striking out alone—or are they.

Crowley accomplishes a great deal in the quick 265 page read. The alternating chapters are short, a couple pages each at most. Contemplations are interlaced amidst action creating a constant sense of movement forward. Will Charlie find out Rose was using her? Will Rose ever get out? Will Dave get past his shyness? Will Mr. Duskin’s come back to life? Will Charlie Duskin get what she wants? The tension is quiet, but ever pulsating. The balance this book maintains is fantastic!

Slowly

So slowly, really slowly

I’m all the chords there are

So slowly, really slowly

I’m keys I never heard

So slowly, really slowly

I’m spinning song and dancing

Rising voice beneath my skin.

(248)

Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song was a joy to read. It is one of the best reads of my year. Don’t be the idiot I was. Put this book on your list and don’t let it slip.

If you loved Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road you will love a little wanting song, they have several sensibilities in common.

****

check these out:

Adele @ Persnickety Snark, review. “If there is one word that encapsulates A Little Wanting Song - it would be delicate.” After reading this, you’ll see what a complete idiot I was to have almost missed this read (though I came across it somewhere else first, even before Steph’s wonderful review).

Steph @ Steph Su Reads, review & author interview.

My on-and-on gushing review of Jellicoe Road, here.

“belonging and longing to be” on the Jellicoe Road

Most would encourage note-taking while reading, or at least your becoming a regular reading-response-diarist. There are arguments against the former. I try to write down words I don’t know with a page number beside them. I occasionally put in scraps of paper to take me back to a page to try to remember why I put the paper there. I rely strongly on memory (which will inevitably fail me). I converse during, and I take notes after (though rarely directly after). All this to say: I should have employed scraps of paper and scribbled a bit all the while. By book’s end everything fell so nicely into place I had a hard time finding the seams and the page numbers for cites and quotes…nevertheless here are my belated notes on Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road.

2999475Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

HarperTeen (HarperCollins), 2006.

(hardcover) 419 pages.

“What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Reading the dust cover, I wouldn’t have picked up Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road. It is not that the Publisher’s Comments are poorly written or lacking intrigue. I just tend to avoid books this dramatic and ‘real;’ especially starring a teen-aged protagonist. I picked up Jellicoe Road because everyone (the blogosphere) told me I should. It was the collective’s unanimity that drew me to this one.

If I were to open the first page, and not the dust cover, in a library aisle I would have taken it home, review unread.  Here is the first line: “My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.”

The first two paragraphs following:

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,” and that was the last thing he ever said.

Okay, I will continue, and this will be the rest of the “Prologue”

We heard her almost straightaway. In the other car, wedged into ours so deep that you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. She told us her name was Tate and then she squeezed through the glass and the steel and climbed over her own dead—just to be with Webb and me; to give us her hand so we could clutch it with all our might. And then a kid called Fitz came riding by on a stolen bike and saved our lives.

Someone asked us later, “Didn’t you wonder why no one came across you sooner?”

Did I wonder?

When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe road like their some kind of garbage, don’t you know?

Wonder dies.

**

The author is gifted with ending a chapter in such a way that had me saying “What? More! You can’t leave it there…” It was lovely. But you can see how this could be frustrating at times.

There is also the adjustment to the idea that the italicized portions in the first person, is not the narrator of the non-italicized portions. And while the non-italicized present day Taylor Markham is linear, the italicized manuscript of Hannah’s is not. Taylor could hardly work out the sequence; “My memory is like Hannah’s manuscript—distorted and out of sequence” (281). Though the manuscript Hannah as written is not linear it is used to parallel events in Taylor’s life. Hannah has written a story about five teenagers of the Jellicoe Road that is set 18 years previous.  Taylor’s story forms a loosely resembled cast of five as well with Ben and Jessa as interchangeable. You see in the present a reflection of the past. In the paralleling, you see the potential for history to repeat itself—which would be terrible.

I [Taylor] find some chapters to read that seem intact. I’m running out of them because so many are half-finished or written in a scrawl that I can’t quite understand. There’s this part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the fact that one of these characters is lost to them and I’m frightened that I will come across the chapter where they find him, because I know, deep down, that it’s not going to turn out the way I want. That someone in this story is not going to get out of it alive. (122-3)

I could as easily had put my name in the brackets…

**

Marchetta would defy ‘inevitability.’ There is a feeling of inevitability as the story in the manuscript unfolds. The inevitable is not because as a reader you should assume the worst. The characters hold every promise and the reader is drawn into the romance of their lives. The inevitability is drawn from what you come to conclude about their future.  You are given allusions as to what will or has happened (depending on the time line). With Taylor, there is not that same sense. She signifies possibility. She, as a character, centers everything and courageously (determinedly) pulls everything together into the present, and forward into a future. And yet, with Taylor, and her friends, you could plausibly argue for the more tragic circumstances of the earlier quintet. They should have the outcome; the repeated history. Taylor and Jonah Griggs are especially ripe for the inevitable destruction of their future, hell, even their present. Hope resides in Marchetta’s defiance of expectation.

There is a long sentence to be created with the listing of all the ugliness glimpsed in the world of this novel. I’m not going to write it. Human depravity and victimization is fairly limitless and Marchetta references a good many of them. For Taylor, and others, there are close calls. Once you read it, you will see. There is a particular moment on (255), and another spectacular moment on page (415), another breathless realization here (335-40). Everything is pulling for Taylor to not just survive, but live a full and beautiful life.

Do not let any trepidation over the first part of the book cause you to set this book aside.  I am a resistant reader of aforementioned dramatics, but I am lover of well-crafted stories. The parallel timelines of manuscript and present were a brilliant idea, and well-conceived. I tend to look at voice. And I appreciate the fact that the manuscript has its own, while Taylor inhabits another. This is not to say that any dissimilarity interrupts the flow and pacing of the book. The transitions are handled beautifully. As the novel nears end you can see Taylor drawing from the manuscripts language and the sense of cohabitation strengthens. I am also patient with the unfolding of a mystery if the author gives me enough as I go along. If you are greedy, you will not care for this story and will set the book down; which is just too bad. I will be friendly and give a hint: The author is giving you everything all along. Nothing and no one is left to spare in Jellicoe Road. And by page end, (and after a good cry), I marveled over how phenomenally well-plotted the clue unraveling occurred—Marchetta even fooled me with the Mrs. Dubose promise. This is Taylor’s story and it can’t come too easy…it never has.

Jellicoe Road follows Taylor Markham, a girl with a sense of no history or past. Yet as the story unfolds, it is her story, the history that formed her, the one she longs for and fearfully confronts. The story of her past is discovered in a manuscript of a story of five teenagers, in dreams, in the memories of those about her, and in the memories of past encounters uncomfortably revisited and continually haunting. Who she is is informed by her past; and yet you see who she is. Taylor is a developed character. As the novel progresses you see Taylor becoming—more. You come to see why she is; but those things do not limit who she becomes. It is fantastic. And it goes back to human possibility, not inevitability. Taylor will carve out a place for herself; especially if the world will allow it; Jellicoe Road would.

That Marchetta writes believable characters is important. That her compassionate gaze and handling of Taylor and others allows for flaws is a big part of that success.  You have to come to love the characters for the story to work. Your heart has to break at least three times in the course of the story.

**

There are literary, pop cultural allusions to follow. And there is context to read because some Australian terms for things are foreign; different but not difficult. There are humorous antics enough to keep you afloat—Kenny Rogers, anyone? There is enough charm to have you sighing without gagging.

I was concerned about the Jonah Griggs component, but he does not come off cliché by book end. He has a vulnerability that saves him. (319-20, 342-3, 346). With the paralleling of stories (past and present) there is a desire to connect characters: J is like—J, or N is similar to T. In doing this I was probably adding more to the character T, than if I had only the one story to follow. An intentional characterization device? Projecting is part of the uncovering of the mysterious past, overlaying and connecting Taylor to one or another. She becomes a more complicated character by book’s end. I hesitate to say more complete, but certainly fuller. Many of the characters do. I suppose a good story should do that, but it works well into a theme of Jellicoe Road..about becoming; about “belonging–longing to be.” (cite).

So much is said about identity in Jellicoe Road. The present teenagers find identifiers in the past teenagers (in the manuscript). The past group appear to be shaped identity-wise along the added parallels of where they are from whether Townies, Cadets, or of Jellicoe School. Where one is from informs Identity. The Jellicoe Road would be a sought after Identity (esp. for Jude) only as it transcends its location as a boarding school for the assorted arsonists and orphans; seasonal campsite; war zone. Jellicoe Road is place and person.  Of Whom one is from is an overriding factor in the conversation on Identity. Again the defiance against expectation and inevitable conclusions. Jonah looks like his father (303), but is not his father; however events concerning his father have affected him.  Taylor comes by her looks (263) and intensity (401) honestly; but she has choices of her own. There is a desire for a connection to the past, of where and whom one comes from, but it is not so as to predict ones future, nor is it to solidify an identity—where would the hope in that be? There are reasons for know where we come from.

I watch Raffy as she removes the pickles from her hamburger and hands them over to Santangelo without them exchanging a word and I realize again there is more to that relationship than spelling bees and being enemies. These people have history and I crave history. I crave someone knowing me so well that they can tell what I’m thinking. (229)

Taylor needs to know she has a place to come back to before she can move on, physically (graduating school) and emotionally (abandoned by mother). Jellicoe Road is a physical place, a subconscious, and an emotional one. Her mother should have been a source of both.  Jellicoe Road has been slipping away from her for a while now; land war losses, inner-House conflicts (disconnects), and trouble with Hannah. Now she is in her last year—needless to say, it all comes to a head; Hannah’s disappearance a significant blow and an important impetus. Creating a parental connection (a sense of history and belonging) to Jellicoe Road creates a landmark and a place of memory. A positive legacy is created out of the ashes of tragic events. The survivors will not languish, but find redemption and purpose. Their legacy is left in a place; a place that is a signifier for those found there. The past, present, and future exists in the relationships between those who will always return to you.

As for the epilogue. How can one page hold so much dread and promise? One page holds a sense that though some things cannot be forgotten those things should not overshadow that which should not be forgotten. The past created more than a legacy of tragedy. Taylor was still to be born, and the house on Jellicoe Road was still to be built. The Jellicoe Road is so much more than it should ever have been.

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Links and…

Adele (of Persnickety Snark) says this at Steph Su Reads, “Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta) – complex structure meets exquisite characterisation in a deep and connective storyline. Also, there’s a really hot guy in fatigues that you will come to love dearly.” Persickety Snark’s post on Jellicoe Road is here.

Little Willow (of Bildungsroman) hosts Melina Marchetta’s thoughts on Hope here.

I don’t care if you are a boy or a girl, nor whether you are teen-aged or not: You can pick this book up in the Teen section of the Library. OR you can just buy it (and a copy for me please). Read Jellicoe Road.

place marker

I have a Word document open and I am trying to write about Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I looking for that angle in which to dive in. Mostly I am starting and stopping; leaving in the middle of sentences and spacing to the next paragraph.

I finished Jellicoe Road last night. I cried my way through the last pages, and then laid the book down and cried a while more. This novel is saturated with the tragic. I didn’t plummet into depressed, but I was sad–terribly sad. I was mourning the characters and their situations. It was beautiful.

The novel is also, really well written–incredibly so. Could be I’m still infatuated with the read. But I will tell you why, if I ever get my notes together…

Today, I have sat down to write a response; something more than a Facebook status update.

Hopefully by tomorrow I will have a response to post.

I will attempt to do some serious-type review on this book, but regardless, my intent by post end is that you will want to read this novel…and that you will, this summer, on a beautiful sunny day.

one; two one-fourths; one third; and a half.

I read one book this weekend and started three; and Natalya and I are continuing Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy.

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One:  The book read and finished in a sitting was Kazu Kibuishi‘s Copper (Graphix; 2010). The book is shelved in Children’s Non-Fiction Art section with their graphic novels and comics. Copper is a collection of Copper comics. And even as this is categorized as Children’s I really think Adults will connect just as easily, if not better, with the characters and their situations. After reading the “Introduction” I am even more convinced of this. Kibuishi writes:

The first Copper image and text was reflective of a time in my life when things weren’t working out so well: My parents needed financial assistance; I lost my graphic design job; I was kicked out of my apartment; and I was attacked by a crazy guy int the street who told me to go back to my “home country,” all in a span of two days.

[...]

What had begun as a somewhat dark comic strip series quickly became more optimistic, more hopeful. The boy, Copper, was at first an observer, but by the third comic he became an active participant in his world, making choices based on his hopes and fears. Fred the dog, was always there to question his best friend’s optimism, but Copper walked ahead with his ideals undeterred. In may ways the characters reflected my life at the time I wrote these strips, and as I look back at them I feel like i can see myself growing up. Drawing these comics gave me a sense of confidence in myself and helped me develop a sense of purpose in the work that I do.

“Clockwork” (72)

May be by week’s end (or the next) I will take one of the comics and explore it a bit here. 

“Waterfall” (39)

And added pleasure of Copper is the “Behind the Scenes” at the back. Kibuishi guides the reader through his process. He is thoughtful and friendly, encouraging, and provides details and helpful hints. The “Behind the Scenes” is fascinating and informative.from “Slowrider” (66)

We own the first two of the Amulet Series by Kibuishi (the third is yet to be released). He is a wonderful artist and storyteller. Needless to say, we look for anything with his name attached.  So check out the Flight and Flight Explorer Anthologies. (The Flight Explorer for the younger crowd.)

One-fourth A: What the Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick Press, 2008). Looked interesting, and right up Natalya’s alley. And the author wrote Wicked, etc. You may have heard of him? Natalya read it in a course of two days maybe. She enjoyed it, and put it in that “You should read this, too, Mom” stack. Still intrigued from when I’d first read the dust jacket in the Library aisle (Children’s Section) I started reading. I may write more on this later, but I find myself saying fairly often (and only a fourth of the way through) “What the dickens is going on here?” I’m sure that if I persevere I will discover the answers to my question. As it is, some parts are enjoyable, some I rub my eyes and remind myself I will be rewarded…Maguire is a popular author after all…

One-fourth B: is a guilty pleasure. I have my closet and so I will keep it closed; but it is a first book in a trilogy and I am eagerly getting through this one so I can get to my goal: the second book—which is out and checked out of the rapid-reads section so I have to wait or sit in a book store most of a day. I am a quarter the way through because I dragged Nate to the Library to pick it up in the afternoon and couldn’t get to until bedtime. I will probably return to this after I blog.

One-third: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge. Natalya and I have made it past the massacre, two volcanoes, and escaped the Ash Walker, thus far. We will meet the Reckoning tonight, hopefully.

Half: Jellicoe Road by Australian Author Melina Marchetta (Harper Teen, 2006). Good, and different. I picked this up last week because of all the positive things I’d heard about it. Anything Teen I prefer Fantasy or Sci-Fi, if that. Mostly, I like Juvenile works, and avoid the drama that is adolescence and all their suffocating conflicts: I guess I don’t care to relive those years: living through them in a different role with my daughter is —. Will write more about Jellicoe Road when I finish it, and consider it a bit.

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This is the last full week of school here. And then a couple more days… and then summer (which equates to travel). I will tote some books and my laptop (if only for an excuse to curl up in a corner of someone else’s basement).