Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books
Release Date: March 31st, 2003
Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, a boys' school that's 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.
An honest, endearing story of family, friendship, and love, Saving Francesca is a contemporary novel that's occasionally humorous and heart-warming all the way.
Francesca Spinelli is used to being in the background. Constantly surrounded by girls with more eccentricities than one could handle, she's used to going unnoticed, and to her life being planned out for her by her control-freak mother. But one day, her mother doesn't want to get out of bed, and lost with no one to make her decisions for her, Francesca is forced to break out of her shell and for the first time in her life, take charge.
Francesca is a character who undergoes an incredible transformation throughout the novel. While I initially had trouble connecting with her, it does not take away from the fact that she's one of the most multi-faceted protagonists I've read of. She starts off almost nondescript but by the end of the novel, she builds a silent strength to her that's inspiring.
And Francesca is not the only one who shines. Marchetta is a master of contemporary YA fiction, and a total wizard when it comes to creating concrete, believable, and most of all lovable characters. Each character, from Francesca to the broody Will to promiscuous Siobhan, is well-developed and important. Their differences don't only make them stand out, they contrast the rest of the characters and make them shine as well. And they're not just different personality-wise. Marchetta translates her Italian-Australian background into her novel and geniusly creates a multicultural setting. She molds her characters in such a way that they're modern and relevant, but stay true to their heritages. This is not something that can be commonly found in a lot of YA novels, but let me tell you, it makes for a unique and enriching reading experience.
The story itself comes across as more of a family drama than a romance. The love story, while satisfying, doesn't take the front seat with this one. It's more like a gift, a nice surprise that greets you along the way. What takes centerstage for the entirety of the novel is Francesca's relationship with her family, particularly her mother. She starts off as the daughter, but the roles reverse and she's compelled to be the nurturing maternal figure. The change is so drastic, and yes, it is heartbreaking to read about a family fall apart, but it's also tinged with hope, because it reminds you of just how far one will go to save a family, and how strong love truly is. I found myself in awe of the bond Francesca and her mother form through the depression at times, because in the beginning Francesca almost resents her mom, but love evidently pulls them together in a way that's still realistic.
Marchetta once again reinforces that she's a pro at contemporary novels with Saving Francesca. While I did not enjoy it as much as I did Jellicoe Road as it did not hit me with the same earth-shattering impact, it's still a great novel that exemplifies the importance of love and friendship.
note: I bought this copy of Saving Francesca