Maybe it's because I went to a religious boarding school, but I love school stories, and I don't think I've read a more intense novel that did not involve a relationship or sex or death in a long time (and when I say relationship, I mean a capital 'R' relationship, a 'we're going out, going steady, we've defined this' kind of thing. There are little 'r' relationships in here that are twice as intense as anything settled and defined. Trust me, chickens.) This book brought to life so many things for me. I laughed out loud, and sniffled through pages and pages, and felt the vivid, claustrophobic, overbearing, garish, depressing, horrifying, gratifying and stultifying world of high school come to life all over again in the pages of Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca. If you haven't ever read this book, run-run-run out and pick it up from the library or bookstore now.
I've just finished my first read through, and I'm not sure what exactly Marchetta did to immerse me in high school emotions again, but I think I loved the central character because she, like me, spends a lot of time muttering under her breath and never really living loudly -- until she does (unlike me, sadly!). There's such a scope of character development as she hits walls, and comes up against obstacles, and she just stumbles on, struggling further and further until she finally realizes she's learning about hope. It's a really beautifully written book, about difficult subjects - clinical depression, fragmenting parents, about family relationships, about resentments and finally, self definition -- loving yourself enough to do the dirt and digging it takes to find out who you are; to see how difficult that is, and to keep going.
There's also the Italian-Australian aspect of the story which was intriguing. Americans are so busy defining our 'African-American,' 'Asian-American,' 'South-Asian-American'-ness that it's hard for us to fathom that Other People Over There are experiencing their own cultural mishmashes presently too, outside of the famed melting pot, and people are thinking new thoughts about where and how they belong, and with whom. It makes for really fascinating reading.
One of Marchetta's gifts is that she's a teacher at a Catholic boy's school much like the one depicted in her novel, so "write what you know" is really resonating with her. Francesca is her second novel, written after an eleven year hiatus, but her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi took the Australian publishing world by storm, (and was published in the U.S. in 1999), winning the Children's Book Council award, and being made into a movie last year (that has sadly yet to make its way over the Pacific! Although I'm going to check the video store). I'm really impressed with Marchetta's style, and hope her audience (Aussies and Americans alike) hear more from her before the next decade!
Check it out, people. And happy writing. May you find such vividness leaping from your pens, bringing all of your characters to irrepressible, rebellious, unprecedented life.