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*Saving Francesca* by Melina Marchetta - young adult book review


Saving Francesca
by Melina Marchetta
Grades 7-9 256 pages Knopf May 2006 Paperback    

Saving Francesca is a novel about love, family, friends, and so many other parts of life. Francesca Spinelli attends St. Sebastian's which has been a boys-only school but now pretends to be coed by adding a girl's bathroom and thirty girl students - as opposed to about seven hundred and fifty boys. The girls in this school are none of Francesca's friends from her previous school; only super-opinionated Tara Finke, slutty Siobhan Sullivan, and geeky Justine Kalinsky from St. Stella's went to St. Sebastian's. Francesca would much rather be with all of her friends at Pius, but when she sees them now, they don't even seem to miss her.

The boys at St. Sebastian's aren't people Francesca particularly wants to spend time with, either. There's Thomas Mackee, who is an expert at musical burping and enjoys fart jokes. Will Trombal is a House leader who Francesca believes to be severely lacking in personality (but she can't stop thinking about him...). Jimmy Hailler is the friendly boy called a "drug fiend" by Francesca's father.

Then there's her family. Her Italian grandparents watch game shows that they don't understand but get excited about the flashing lights. Francesca's cousin, Angelina, has always been very close to her idol, Francesca's mother. Papa is a quiet optimist. Luca is Francesca's younger brother, and they are surprisingly close. Mia, Francesca and Luca's mother, is everywhere; she's up every morning with music and a pep talk for Francesca. She's everything, and her everything takes over the family. Then, suddenly, things change in the Spinelli household.

Mia doesn't get up in the morning. There's no advice. No plans for Francesca making new friends at school. No agenda other than getting through the day, for the first time all year. And it continues. Mia is in bed, not talking. Crying. Not eating. She's no longer full of life; now she spends the days in her nightgown. At first, relatives tell Francesca that her mother's "a bit down." Later, though, Francesca knows Mia isn't "a bit" anything. Mia was never "a bit"; she was always so much. Too much, sometimes. Mia was the one who told Francesca who she was, the one who made her what she is. Now Francesca is lost. Everything was about Mia, dramatic, lively Mia. Now, everything is still about Mia, but Mia isn't "a bit down" now. She's got acute depression, and no one knows how to fix it and make life for the Spinelli family get back to normal.

Saving Francesca is a book readers won't soon forget. It's definitely worth reading, and even re-reading. The unique, realistic characters are only part of the pull that will have readers hooked. This books is everything you'd expect one from such a popular author to be and more. Australian Melina Marchetta is also the author of Looking For Alibrandi, a popular book for young adults that I haven't yet read but will definitely be purchasing on my next trip to Barnes and Noble. If other people read Saving Francesca and realize what a brilliant author Melina Marchetta is, I won't be alone in purchasing Looking For Alibrandi, recently back in print in the U.S. When Melina Marchetta's next book is published, I'll definitely be in line the first day it's available, and I don't think I'll be alone!

During Mia's depression, Francesca has to find out who she is, keep her family together (relatives are trying to keep Francesca and Luca away from the sadness and sickness that has invaded their family), and find out who her friends are. Yeah, all teenagers have to deal with their identities, their social lives, and their families, but Francesca has a tougher time than most. This book deals uniquely with the issue of depression from the perspective of the daughter of a woman who is depressed - seriously depressed, as in can't get out of bed, not just saying "my life is such a mess! It's so depressing," as so many people do without knowing what it really means to be depressed. This is a hard issue to write about, and Melina Marchetta does a fantastically brilliant job.

Every aspect of this novel is remarkable. Francesca's narration is wonderful, keeping readers interested,as the story moves on at just the right pace with just the right amount of detail. It is at once touching and humorous, its characters unique, interesting, and well-developed, especially Francesca's diverse group of classmates at St. Sebastian's. The plot is original and fascinating, and Marchetta sometimes talks about the serious issues of Mia's depression and how the family deals with it then smoothly switches into Francesca's social life without making her worries about her friends seem superficial compared to what she deals with at home. This book is sure to be a hit with teenagers and even adults, who will realize how great young adult literature can be.

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