by Melina Marchetta
I can’t believe I said it out loud. The truth doesn’t set you free, you know. It makes you feel awkward and embarrassed and defenseless and red in the face and horrified and petrified and vulnerable. But free? I don’t feel free. I feel like shit.
16-year old Francesca is sent to St. Sebastian’s School by her caring but determined mother, Mia, who is convinced that the opportunity will open up new doors for Francesca. It’s every girl’s dream to attend an all-boys school, right? Not for Francesca, who has left the safety of her old friends and school behind. Now the only people who she has to hang out with are the outcasts from her old school – an outspoken feminist named Tara, wild-child Siobhan and Justine, the accordion player. On top of that, the boys in the school are crass and infuriating – especially the maddening Will Trombal.
Then, one day, Mia’s mother doesn’t get out of bed. And she doesn’t the next day either. Francesca’s wonderful, sparkling, out-spoken mother has acute depression, and Francesca is not sure how to help her. In figuring out how to help her mother find her way back, Francesca must also figure out how to save herself and discover who she truly is.
I first fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s writing after her absolutely brilliant, moving book Jellicoe Road. Her characters were deep, nuanced and familiar. The story and the dialogue rang true. I eagerly sought out her prior novels and am so grateful that I did because they do not disappoint.
At its heart, Saving Francesca is a book about a girl trying to find out who she is and her place in the world, which I think is a theme that Marchetta explores in all of her novels. From her writing, it is obvious that she was a high school teacher as she knows her characters innately and has a real feel for the high school voice. I absolutely love the characters in all of Marchetta’s works. They stick with you and you can’t stop thinking about them, wondering what they are up to, where the story goes next. Francesca’s unlikely group of friends is a group that any high school girl (heck, 28 year old) would want. They care about each other. They are unique and fun and spunky. They feel real.
I also love how realistically Marchetta portrays issues relating to young people – love, acceptance, self-discovery. She also handles Mia’s depression in a very even-handed, realistic way. The author writes about issues WITHOUT IT BEING AN ISSUE BOOK! It’s just a life book – characters learning, growing, and developing.
Francesca’s relationship with Will was realistically portrayed as well. I have read some reviews in which the reviewer didn’t like Will. There are times that I didn’t like Will – however, I remember back to high school and I think that sometimes high school boys (at least the ones that I remember) can do jerky things. I love a swept-away romance as much as the next person, but this relationship felt raw and true.
After attending many, many years of Catholic school (including 4-years at an all-girls high school), I can relate to Marchetta’s setting and loved the little “insider” jokes she threw in about using butcher block paper and the small group skits that the students had to do. The students even attend a retreat in which they have to create a pyramid representing the Catholic church. It was really hilarious.
Melina Marchetta is an author to be excited about. I love her writing voice, her characters and the “realness” of her stories. If you want a moving book that is sprinkled with humor, this is your book. If you want a strong story about a girl trying to discover who she is and be her own person, this is your book. I absolutely love anything Melina Marchetta writes and this book is no exception. It is fantastic.
Genre: Realistic fiction
Age Recommendation: 14 and up