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- author Jackie French

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Review: Saving Francesca

Francesca Spinelli is 16, in Year 11, and her whole world has been turned upside down. New at St. Sebastian’s, an all boys’ school that now accepts girls (30 amongst 750 boys), she doesn’t belong. The school hasn’t fully embraced the infrastructure and needs required for the girls and the boys see them as pests.

Add to that, her previously dynamic and positive mother remains in bed suffering a nervous breakdown and depression and Francesca doesn’t know why.

The voice of Francesca is in first person and she alternates between being a smart, witty, assertive character and withdrawn due to her inability to cope with the ripple effect of her mother’s silence. She has to make new friends, navigate the world of gross boys who revel in their bodily emissions, act immature and antagonise her – and figure out exactly what she feels for the annoying Year 12 house leader, Will Trombal.

But Francesca is hurting, her lovable younger brother is devastated seeing their mother wilt before them, and their father flounders in a sea of non-communication. Home no longer feels like home, especially when the extended Italian family intervenes causing further change.

At school, Francesca endures a string of unprecedented detentions, social isolation, is tagged as weird and bitchy, and finds herself recharging her emotional state on the principal’s couch.

The power of teen friendship is a salve as an unexpected group forms around her and gives her hope. Unique and funny characters such as the socially uninhibited Thomas  and Jimmy, outspoken feminist Tara, nice Justine and ‘easy’ Siobhan, balance the undertone of serious themes. Francesca learns the truth about friendship and that boys can be friends, albeit annoying ones. She can at times be an unreliable narrator due to her emotional upheaval, and flashbacks incorporate backstory and ground the reader.

Above all, Francesca grapples with her identity as a friend, daughter, student and female as she finds her place amidst unprecedented change.

Marchetta’s characters are memorable, her prose is beautiful and her ability to convey teen issues and angst is once again encapsulated in Saving Francesca where themes of family conflict, depression, first love and friendship are explored with skill and depth.

Title: Saving Francesca
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Penguin, $19.95 RRP
Publication Date: 2003
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143000976
For ages: 13-17
Type: Young Adult Fiction