Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta is the author’s second published work set in her hometown of Sydney, Australia. I am working my way through her back list. I know she has recently released a fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock. Quite a big step away from the coming of age stories that she does so well. I can tell right away that I will probably prefer those stories over her fantasy efforts. That’s just a gut feeling. I won’t know until I actually read it though.
Melina Marchetta is still relatively unknown in the US. As readers and fans of her work, this needs to change. Marchetta has won various awards for her teen fiction efforts. Her first book, “Looking for Alibrandi,” short-listed for the prestigious German Prize Award for Youth Literature. She also won the US Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature for Jellicoe Road in 2009.
Her second novel, Saving Francesca, is a much stronger novel. It’s another coming of age story with the same themes from her previous book about teens having to deal with complicated, real life adult issues while trying to find themselves. What this author does that makes me such a big fan after reading two of her books is that she makes the reader feel like they are apart of the story. It helps that her stories are character driven and humorous.
I love the author’s voice and narrative style. She has a straight forward style. She doesn’t gloss over the issues. We are not hit over the head with uplifting messages and she’s not repetitive. She writes about the teen experience with humor and sincerity. I like that her stories are family oriented and culturally and ethnically diverse. No boring middles.
Once again, the story’s narrative is in first person and follows 16 year-old Francesca Spinelli. She’s started Year Eleven at St. Sebastian’s, a former all boy’s Catholic school. With only 30 girls attending St. Sebastian’s, the only thing that makes it “co-ed” is the girls now have their own toilet (according to the narrator). The girls haven’t been completely accepted by their male peers yet. There’s a lot of crotch grabbing and wolf whistles in the halls.
The girls do try to start their own “woman’s movement” by handing over a list of their demands. First on the list is a tampon dispenser in the bathroom. The list is handed over to William Trombal, a Year 12 student who is also Head leader. He’s an ex-choir boy who wants to study civil engineering. He’s described as having the voice of a sex-god and he ends up being Francesca’s biggest crush. I enjoyed many of their scenes together (hand holding, flirting, talks of the future, passionate kisses in the dark).
I must like issue books as again we are confronted with one in here where Francesca’s mom has a nervous breakdown. Her mother, Mia, is a communications lecturer at the University of Technology-Sydney. Mia is passionate and very vocal about everything. Everyday after school, Mia would be there to ask her daughter about her day or wake up in the morning to give her one of her pep talks.
But for several days in a row, Francesca has noticed that her mother doesn’t want to get out of bed. When she does get out of bed, she’s in the bathroom retching. Her father, Rob, is struggling to maintain the household. Throughout the course of book, Francis and her father argue a lot. Rob’s an optimist and a man who doesn’t like to discuss problems. He’s one of those people who like to say “everything’s going to be alright” even when things don’t look that way.
I think what I found frustrating was that everybody knew what was wrong with Mia except for Francesca. She stays mostly in the dark, grabbing whatever info she can from her cousins and grandparents. Even though the story has very little scenes with Mia in them, we get to know her through her daughter’s memories of her through anecdotes, prep talks and advice.
The author has once again, introduced a somewhat largish cast of characters. Fortunately for us, each of them have a distinctive voice and personality so that we can keep track of them. You feel a connection to these kids. How would I describe Francesca? I’d say that she’s cynical, indifferent and reserved (just like me). At the same time she can be unpredictable and outgoing. Her mother’s breakdown has seriously caused her life to run off track.
And the writing! After reading Melina Marchetta, you almost want to go back and relive your high school years. There are quite a few hilarious moments in here especially when the girls ask to participate in competitive sports and the guys oblige. Yes, they get annihilated. Francesca recounts what happened:
This is the short version: They play like it’s the Olympics and their country’s honor depends on it. If we even dare to try to adjust our gym pants, we get wolf-whistled. There are nosebleeds, fractured fingers and hair pulling. It’s pretty full-on and although I’m tall, I feel as if I’ve been tossed around the whole game. I end up on my bum so many times that I’m convinced that I’ve broken a bone there.
I’m not a fan of teen angst of the Bella Swan variety but I had no problem with the teen-age drama in here. And as for the romance, I don’t think it’s fair to describe them as “romances” so I have to becareful with how I use that word in here. There’s a lot of flirting, hand-holding and passionate kisses. Complicated romance stuff that’s fun to read and watch unfold but, it’s not “romance” per se.
Melina Marchetta writes about the teen experience well and I haven’t mentioned every plot point in the story either. At the heart of this one, it’s about family and friendships. I guess another reason why her stories stand out to me is that her characters seem to act and behave like real teens act and behave. The guys in the story come off initially as obnoxious and bone-headed, but as the story progresses, more layers are peeled away and we get to see their vulnerable side.
Marchetta gives you the complete reading experience (at least for me she does) – memorable characters, hilarious high school scenes, complicated family issues along with complicated romance issues with a happy ending. You can’t ask for more than that. So, overall, this book is an A read for me. If you’re still reading this far down, I also ordered her newest release, The Piper’s Son, that just came out in Australia, that features one of the boys in Saving Francesca, Thomas MacKee. Can’t wait to read it! US release is set for 2011.