Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
From Goodreads: Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, a boys’ school that’s pretends it’s coed by giving the girls their own bathroom. Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an an impossibly dorky accordion player. The boys are no better, from Thomas who specializes in musical burping to Will, the perpetually frowning, smug moron that Francesca can’t seem to stop thinking about.
Then there’s Francesca’s mother, who always thinks she knows what’s best for Francesca—until she is suddenly stricken with acute depression, leaving Francesca lost, along, and without an inkling who she really is. Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.
Review: 5 out of 5 Stars
It’s official – Melina Marchetta is a must read author for me. While this book was so different from and less grand than my beloved On the Jellicoe Road, it was its own breed of perfect.
This novel centers on Francesca, a high school junior who is starting a new school and will be one of only 35 girls in an all-boys school. It starts on the first day of her mother’s nervous breakdown and follows her throughout this year as she has to face (and find?) certain truths about herself and her family.
I actually don’t think the Goodreads (or my) summary do this story justice. It is about high school and friends and boys and family, but it’s somehow about more than that as well. I called it less grand than Jellicoe Road, and it is, but it also tackles some tough concepts really well – mental illness and the stigma surrounding it being the mostly obvious example. I thought Marchetta’s treatment of this subject was just so good; she managed to incorporate both some great reactions and terrible reactions to the mother’s breakdown, in a totally non-judgmental way.
I also thought the relationship development was spot on. It develops organically and in a way that makes you remember your own first serious love interest and all the butterflies that came along. And the beautiful writing on friendships and how important finding a group of true friends is to your life was just perfect. There was bickering and misunderstandings and gossip and just pure love and it was amazing.
But what this author does as well as or better than almost anyone else I’ve read lately is she just writes teenagers perfectly (and, thus, painfully sometimes). Francesca here is discovering some important things about her family and herself and who she can be, and Marchetta writes that moment of self-discovery and all the turmoil that comes with it just perfectly.
In fact, what I love about YA – and what I think Marchetta did so well here – is that really good YA focuses on a really tough point in a person’s life where she (or he) is really choosing what kind of person to be. The late teen years are tumultuous at best and really great writers can make so much out of that time in life – whether set in a contemporary, or dystopian, or yes, even well written paranormal romance setting. I think that what really good YA does is gives teen readers permission to feel, to find inner strength, to fight the odds, to see themselves in someone who is not many years older. Do I think a great deal of it has to do with marketing choices? Of course. But I do think it’s about more than that.
And since everyone has at one point been a teenager and remembers those turning points, I think YA has the ability to really speak to readers of all ages. This novel, particularly, is just a great example of pinpointing that moment when you start finding a glimpse of your true self. I thought it was just beautiful.
I loved this novel and I cannot wait to get my hands on more Marchetta immediately.
I absolutely love both this novel and this author. If you’ve been shying away from contemporary YA, I recommend you dig in to some Marchetta. You won’t look back.