A very intricately and for the most part opaquely plotted YA novel involving elaborate war games between kids at boarding school, their connections to another group of kids a generation ago, and an unpublished and out-of-sequence novel which is clearly fictionalized from real events.

I had no idea what was going on for the first four-fifths of this book, nor any idea why anyone was doing anything. The near-total lack of physical description didn’t help. At several points I was not even sure whether it was supposed to be realistic or post-apocalypse or fantasy or satire or what. The story was so perplexing in general that, among other things, I had no idea how seriously to take the “war,” and was unsure for ages whether a firestarter was a pyrokinetic or just a pyromaniac. I don’t think I was supposed to wonder about the genre, but I was so confused in general that I began clutching at straws in expectation of a resolution along the lines of “It’s all in virtual reality! It’s all a novel written by one of the characters—who’s dead! They’re on a generation ship and they don’t know it!”

Eventually everything is explained in a quite clever manner and without any gimmicky gotcha reveals. But because my confusion over what the hell was going on prevented me from having any connection to the characters, the emotional resonance fell completely flat.

I often like stories which assemble themselves into logical order in retrospect (such as the gorgeous genderbending manga Afterschool Nightmare Volume 1 [AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMAR] or Louis Sachar’s intricate YA novel Holes, but this one didn’t give me enough to hang on to in terms of an enjoyable and emotionally engaging reading experience before it got to the resolution.

Many people loved this a lot, though, so this may be an idiosyncratic reaction. Or I may just not like Marchetta. I also didn’t like her Saving Francesca, about a girl whose mother suddenly becomes severely depressed. That wasn’t confusing. It just didn’t grab me.

View on Amazon: Jellicoe Road

Feel free to put spoilers in the comments.


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