Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, 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.
If it has not already been established, then I will make it clear once and for all: I love to read.
There is nothing I quite enjoy more than immersing myself in a world unlike my own. Marveling in the rise and fall of characters, witnessing firsthand the consequences of hasty actions, tasting the metallic tang of described death – it is in these rare moments that the word ‘escapism’ comes to life.
What distinguishes Melina Marchetta so fabulously is the dynamic between the reader and writer. At times, I gather the impression that an author is simply talking at me, running through the machinations of the story as though I were sitting in front of them. Marchetta, however, has this beautiful (and almost indescribable) ability to gather me into the story, to make the reader an undeniable part of the tale. Saving Francesca ceases to involve only Francesca, and starts becoming a reflection of the trials and tribulations within our lives. Francesca’s story starts becoming our story too.
Francesca’s story is not particularly complicated. She is a teenage girl struggling in a primarily single-sex school with oddities she is reluctant to call acquaintances, let alone friends. Her family life begins to crumble as her mother hits rock bottom and her father becomes distant. There is Will, with whom she has a one-steps-forward-two-steps back budding romance. This book is devoid of pretension, fancy gadgets, Bourne-esque action or excessive melodrama which goes to demonstrate that there is always merit and beauty within simplicity.
In my humble opinion, the absolute high point of this book would have to be the characters. Marchetta has flawlessly constructed a myriad of characters that have their own distinct personalities and voices, all of which are an absolute delight to read about. The protagonist’s development does not outweigh that of the minor characters. They are all given a chance to shine – overbearing feminist Tara, punk rock enthusiast Thomas, “can I come over to yours for dinner” Jimmy – and that’s just naming a few. The interpersonal character relationships convey a remarkable sense of reality. Good friendships and rapports don’t just happen. They require work, and Marchetta pointedly expresses this to us. Francesca and company regard each other with a great amount of trepidation and hostility before discovering their redeeming qualities and potential. I consider this an honest expression of relationship development, one that makes you feel as though you yourself are becoming friends with everyone. For all of this, I commend Marchetta.
There is so much more in this book that I could rave about; the witty dialogue, the poignant portrayal of a difficult and secretive family life, walking through Hyde Park. I will, however, refrain from speaking further. This book is touching and rewarding, and I recommend it to anyone looking for heartfelt contemporary fiction that is not afraid to make you a part of it.