By: Joohee Park
You might have read or heard of John Green’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska. However, Looking for Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetta, although similar in name and in genre, is hard to find here in America, even at a local Barnes & Noble. However, in Australia Marchetta is considered a literary genius of young adult fiction.
In 2003, ten years after the debut of her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, Marchetta returned with her second novel, Saving Francesca.
Saving Francesca is a composite of themes commonly found in young adult fiction: family, friendship, and identity; however, it is an emphatic stand-alone that successfully distinguishes itself from other “chick lit,” with undertones of depression and feminism.
Marchetta narrates the novel through sixteen-year-old Francesca Spinelli, whose personality is as malleable as her name–Frankie, Francis, and just Francesca. Marchetta’s writing gives insight into Francesca’s struggles with identity. Because Francesca’s old school, St. Stella’s, only goes up to Year Ten, Francesca yearns to follow her friends to Pius Senior College. But Francesca’s mother, Mia, thinks her daughter would be better off at St. Sebastian’s, a predominantly all-boys school that has just started accepting girls. As Mia becomes severely depressed, Francesca begins to question the shy, quiet façade she has perfected over the years. Without her manipulative, disapproving friends and her outspoken, empowering mother to “save her,” Francesca attempts to rediscover the “little girl who sang ‘Dancing Queen’ at the Year Six Graduation night.”
Exemplifying the ramifications of ignoring and burying problems, as they have a tendency to surface and metastasize, Marchetta adeptly maps out the effect of Mia’s illness on the family and on Francesca’s experience at school. Marchetta’s highly anticipated novel certainly does not disappoint. It is the work of a mature, assured writer.