@ Scattered Figments
When I first picked up this book I did so because I'd seen a few good reviews of it around and about and I was enjoying the fab little trend of dystopian fiction that is still running its course in YA at the moment. However, my hopes weren't huge because I'm one of those despicable human beings who judges books by their covers. This cover was just a bit...is “80s” the right term?...for me.
Well give me a sturdy slap on the wrist, I must learn to obey old clichés as this was a book that I should not have judged by its cover. And I should not have expected it to fit into the sometimes (though not always) sanguine niche that YA can be. Don't bite, I said it can be!
For me, Ashes was a book that provided plenty of the darkness and grit that its title suggested. When an EMP causes all electronics to faulter and also interferes with the teeny tiny electrical pulses in the brains of humans, a whole heap of...poop...hits the fan! Only the very young and very old survive intact...save for a few exceptions such as Alex, the protagonist. Others survive, but as maddened inhumane creatures, similar to the "sickos" in Charlie Higson's The Enemy series, or the raging "infected" in 28 Days Later.
The idea of the masses succumbing to a force that leaves them insane and blood thirsty is not new. The dystopian premise of technology falling down around our ears is not new either. So what about this book made me love it as much as I did? It was a combination of things really. I loved Alex as the protagonist. She goes to the mountains to bury her past and to admit that, due to a brain tumor, she has no future. Instead it is her tumor and the treatments she's had for it that saves her from the EMP and allows her to begin her story. These are things you find out in the first pages so I don't think I'm spoiling anything for you.
I'm thoroughly looking forward to the sequel to this (already on my Goodreads Wishlist) and finding out how Bick tortures her protagonist further.
This was a really touching story. Connor was a great lad and his situation was heartbreaking. His mother, who battles cancer throughout the narrative, was a brave and touching character. Connor's grandmother seemed cold and cruel at times, but was simply a woman trying to remain strong in the face of the inevitability that she would soon have to bury her daughter. Ness subverts expectations with this narrative. He highlights the often sad conclusions of so many real-life narratives, a theme that is all the more poignant given Siobhan Dowd's own untimely death due to breast cancer.
The eponymous Monster of the book was also a subversion of common conceptions. He wasn't scary in a conventional way. Even Connor wasn't scared of him at first. He didn't eat babies or terrorise villagers. He was scary because he made Connor face up to the unfairness of reality and made him see how frightening the truth can be. Sometimes the scariest thing about tragedy is how happy it can make us when it's over...
I enjoyed the tales told by the Monster as I've always enjoyed the sometimes dark-morality of fairy tales. Ness' monster captured this tone and atmosphere superbly. Yesterday I mentioned Stephen King's knack for capturing the perfect tone for dark bedtime stories and I have to repeat this praise for Ness today!
Overall, this was a moving story. It is impressive that such a short tale can have such depth and beauty, and it is also impossible to forget the circumstances that saw it being written. However, great stories live for a long time. It is a touching tribute to the imagination of a strong writer that this tale was given life by the incredible Patrick Ness. His skills breathed life into a tale that might have otherwise been left to dust.
I may have mentioned at some point (or at several points) that I am completely in love with audiobooks. They make my drive to work not just bearable, but enjoyable. I find that with audiobooks, your eyes don't get the chance to skip over the text and miss something important. Every nuance of a book is brought to life with unabridged recordings of books.
On The Jellicoe Road was another brilliant use of my Audible monthly membership. Rebecca Macauley brought Melina Marchetta's Australian narrative to life.
Taylor Markham was a protagonist who had me torn. At times I liked her cool independence and her "take no prisoners" attitude. At other times I was irritated by how tunnel-visioned she was. I guess when I was a teenager I suffered a case of near-sightedness and held the mistaken belief that my own tiny corner of the world was the sphere itself. Maybe that's just a part of growing up. Nonetheless, Taylor's selfishness irritated me. She'd been through a lot but didn't recognise the positives and potentials of her life.
The narrative of On The Jellicoe Road was split. On the one hand there was the first person narrative of Taylor, on the other was the manuscript written by Hannah, the woman who found and cares for Taylor. At first this was a tad confusing in the audiobook and it took me a few switches in perspective to figure out what was going on. However, I am slow...
I loved the setting of this book. The vivid description of the Jellicoe School and its surrounding grounds was made all the more bright and exciting by the Australian narrator who lent credence to the language. I found myself thinking in an Australian accent (a not at all believable one...) while listening to this book. What can I say? I'm an impressionable soul.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed On The Jellicoe Road. I'd heard a whole bunch of hype about it from my fellow bloggers and, while I'm not sure it's a book I'd rave about, it is a book which I found engaging and enjoyable!