Released on 05.09.2006
Knopf Books for Young Readers
REVIEW: First off, let me say that there are stories that you love, then there are stories you feel like you are in, and then there are stories in which you assume a character's role. Somehow, Saving Francesca is, without exception, all three of these things. Originally, I didn't plan on writing a blog review of this one. My intention was to read it before reading The Piper's Son, Marchetta's newest book that just released last Tuesday. I was going to give it a quick review on GoodReads and call it a day. Then I started reading. And Francesca and her words crept into my ear, down my throat and into my heart. There was no way I couldn't not talk about how wonderful this book is or how lovingly poignant and beautiful her story is to read.
I never expected the amazing depth the book has judging by the cartoon clad cover. Yeah, I know, color me a snob, but it was my first Marchetta - what did I know? Francesca is one of the most wonderful, tender, vulnerable and strong characters I've ever met. She hid her true personality in junior high due to peer pressure, but it was the sneaky, subtle, mean girl kind of pressure - you know what I'm talking about. The kind where you don't even know you're giving the best parts of yourself away because you are under the spell of belonging. Anywho, strong and vulnerable, right? Sounds like a flipping cliche, right? Well, maybe, but Francesca OWNS it. Seriously, flip that cliche over. It will say: MADE IN SYDNEY BY FRANKIE, BABY.
And Francesca really is the story. She's the oldest of two and adores her little brother (so refreshing to see). You get the sense of discord right from beginning, as her mother simply won't get out of bed. Her mother absolutely runs their lives. So, in this home, no active mother = no family foundation. Her father is completely devoted to her and tries to cope as best as he knows how to, but Francesca and her little brother have to take second place. It is heart wrenching to see their pain, and it's a powerful reminder that a family is a unit. When one member suffers, everyone does. Francesca is really in a perfect storm of a situation. On one front, she is feeling a sense of having no place in a hostile new school. The old, pre-mean girl Francesca could've adjusted better, but the more subdued Francesca does not, and she feels lost. On another front, her type-A, encouraging, overbearing (and sometimes resented) mother is no longer with it enough for her to get support from. On the third front, Francesca is struggling to connect with people. She has this group of quasi-friends, but she doesn't really feel like she has anyone specific to turn to.
That's the plot in a nutshell. Francesca Spinelli is learning how to cope with a new school unprepared and unwilling to accommodate its new female student body. Her dad has to be emotional support for her mom, she has to be that for her little brother, which leaves no one to be it for her. She's learning to reclaim her own sense of self that she gave away years earlier in an attempt to fit in. Along the way, the absolute best supporting cast of characters I've read in so long comes into her life and made me laugh, *snort*, hoot!, awwww and yes, even cry. Usually, I'd stop right here and declare Marchetta a Master of Characterization, but honestly, she's just a Master, period. Marchetta is a Master Writer, and that's all there is to it.
I'm not exaggerating - the mastery extends to setting, as well. The story takes place in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, and yes, there are direct references to the area. What I am really talking about, though, is Marchetta's ability to write about a very specific place and make it feel like you are walking in your own neighborhood. I loved it, and, as a former Catholic school girl who grew up in an area with significant Italian, Irish and Eastern European influences, the school setting, community, and little nuances that make this story come to life made me feel like I was touring my own high school and city. Adding in Francesca's emotionally charged narrative and her authentic, true-to-life friends made me feel like I was time traveling back to my former teenage self.
This book is heartbreaking and hilarious - there is such a blemish-free balance between the serious tone and the laugh-out-loud moments. It's like a friend holding you while you cry and then that person says something that sets off a huge chain of laughs that makes you think, "Yeah, this is it - this is living." There is just something so special about this book. . . It's a perfect story, and I absolutely encourage you to pick it up and experience it for yourself.
Bonus: One of the hilarious subplots of the book is a battle over a stolen recipe for Sicilian S-biscuits involving Francesca's grandmother and her love interest/adversary's grandmother. The S-biscuits are a real fact in Marchetta's life, and my very-eager-to-try-them hubs oh-so-subtlety found this recipe for them. . . right from family recipe box of Marchetta's own mother. Enjoy!
QUOTES (for the record, the whole book is one big, long quote - it's that good):
"I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I'm sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, 'Frankie, you're silly, you're lazy, you're talented, you're passionate, you're restrained, you're blossoming, you're contrary.'
I want to be an adjective again.
But I'm a noun
A nothing. A nobody. A no one"
"For a moment I can't help thinking how decent he it - that there's some hope for him beyond the obnoxious image he displays. Maybe deep down he is a sensitive guy, who sees us as real people with real issues. I want to say something nice. Some kind of thanks. I stand there, rehearsing in in my mind.
'Oh my God,' he says, 'did you see that girl's tits?'
Maybe not today."
"'. . . And secondly, losing your virginity doesn't make you a slut. I slept with your father when I was your age. . . '
'Mia,' my father roared from the other room.
'What? So we're going to lie to her now,?' she shouted back.
He walked in. 'What if your mother finds out? Or my mother?'
'Robert, it was twenty years ago. I don't think there's much they can do.'
He looked at me, pointing a finger. "No sex for you.' He used the Soup Nazi's accent from Seinfeld.
"'Do you think I look like Sophia Loren?' I ask him as we get into the car.
'I used to tell your mother she looked like Sophia Loren.' He looks at me, frowning, and then it registers. 'Oh God, some guy's using that line on you, isn't he?'
'Not just 'some guy,' I tell him. "The guy."