Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Title: Saving Francesca
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 9, 2006
Pages: 243 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastian's, a boys' school that 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, alone, 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.


Of all the things that place limitations on her life--St. Sebastian's, a boys' school that just went co-ed; feminist Tara, rumored slut Siobhan, and piano accordion player Justine; persistent Jimmy, that smug moron Will (that she can't stop thinking about), and Thomas, he of the musical burping--Francesca would say her overbearing mother is the number-one limitation placer. Then Mia Spinelli, her supermom who is always up in the morning to start the day with a song, doesn't get out of bed one morning. Or the next morning. Or the next morning. Stricken with acute depression, her mom can't do much of anything anymore. In a new environment without her mom or old friends to tell her who she is, Francesca will finally have to find herself.

This is one I've heard about for years and years and years because of the author's talent. I'd heard people mention some of her other books like Looking for Alibrandi and On the Jellicoe Road, but Saving Francesca was the Marchetta book I heard the most about. While not perfect, it was a very enjoyable book I know I'll be going back to reread in the future.

At first, I wasn't feeling very wowed. Yeah, Francesca's situation pulled at my heart strings a little, I giggled, I teared up, wow Will is a butt, her new friends are pretty cool and all her old friends suck, etc.

Then I realized that the beauty of the book is really in how understated it is. Siobhan's situation isn't directly dealt with, but the reader becomes understanding of her and realizes without the book telling them that hey, she's not a slut, she's just a normal teenage girl dealing with life her own way. Francesca's issues and her friends and everything else--they get the same treatment. I whine all the time about books being as subtle as a brick to the head and I have finally, finally, found a subtle book. Hallelujah!

After that, I came to really appreciate the book and like it. Francesca's struggle to find herself after she got used to other people defining her is one a lot of other people can relate to. I went from giggling and tearing up to laughing and full-on crying, and I could not read or turn the pages fast enough to satisfy my craving for more. While I wasn't a huge fan of Will and Francesca together, they did work fairly well together and Will had his own issues. A love interest with depth! Oh my!

As much as I liked it, the pacing was a little slow. Yes, this is a character-driven book. I am fully aware of this. This does not stop the book's tedious moments from happening or excuse them because I have steamrolled through some character-driven books in one sitting and never found them tedious at any point. This was more of a problem in the first half of the book than the second half; by the time I made it halfway through the book, I was hooked and couldn't escape even if I wanted to, and I most definitely didn't.

So in summary, I liked it. I really liked it. If I can ever reduce the number of unread books sitting in my room, I'll go looking for Marchetta's other books, which are even better than this one depending on who you are listening to.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Torch Red: Color Me Torn by Melody Carlson