Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Saving Francesca

Title: Saving Francesca
Author: Melina Marchetta
Published: May 2006
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Every now and again, a person will stumble across an amazing —.  This — is so incredible that you can't believe it took you this long to find — .  Everything about this — seems perfect; you know that  — probably isn't so, but — and you are so compatible that you can't seem to focus on flaws.  — and you spend hours together.  Before you found —, you didn't find as much meaning in life. You are in love with this —.

If you think I'm talking about a special man in my life, you don't know me at all. I'm talking about a book, of course.  Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, to be precise.  It's one of my favorite books of all time. (In case you couldn't guess.)

Full disclosure: when I first read this novel, I was going through a really, truly terrible time.  And this story made a difference in my life during that time, so I can't be impartial.  I love this book.

It follows an Australian teenager named Francesca Spinelli.  She, also, is going through a terrible time.  She's having an identity crisis; she's not sure who she is, as a person.  She moved schools, and has left all her friends to attend St. Sebastian's, which has just become co-educational.  She seems to be going through a slump; every day is ridiculously hard to get through.  Most of all, her mother — her vivacious, bombastic, intelligent mother — has come down with severe depression and won't leave her bed.

Does this book sound like a downer? It's not, I swear.  It's the kind of book where you cry a few times, but smile and laugh for the majority.

Let's talk about the humor first.  The main source of hilarity comes from the new, co-educational realities of St. Sebastian's, Francesca's new school.  The transplanted girls of St. Sebastian's have banded together, despite their disparate personalities, to demand representation at the still male-oriented school.  Although activist Tara Finke is the mastermind behind a formal list of feminist demands — opportunity to play competitive sports, a tampon machine, "Stalag 17 is a travesty of coeducational drama" — Francesca is chosen to be the girls' spokesperson because of her not so much rapport as odd dynamic with head-of-house Will Trombal.

Marchetta writes about the battle of the sexes with such humorous, affirming aplomb.  She's fair to both sides of the aisle, in a way that takes all the ill-humor out of feminism.  I know that sometimes, as a feminist, I'm whipped into this irate mood, thinking about all the misdemeanors of the patriarchy.  Marchetta manages to be staunchly feminist, while celebrating masculinity. In fact, I would love to get a male perspective of this book, to see if it's as fair and realistic as I believe it is, in this respect.

Gender dynamics are an important aspect of the book, but Saving Francesca is ultimately a bildungsroman with much to say about identity, friendship, love, and family. However, it also deals with the subject of depression, and does so in a really accurate, penetrating way.  Depression touches everyone's life in some aspect, and I think books like Saving Francesca address the illness so effectively and in such an important way.  Reading this book reiterates my belief in the purpose of fiction — that it teaches us how to understand our lives and how to live them fully.

What else is there to say? So much that I can't possibly confine it in one review!  Seriously, I think every word of this book is perfect.  It's a novel that I read over and over again and love every time.  I  recommend it with impunity.

Final Verdict: 5 North Stars 


  1. Oh man. I hope you'll read The Piper's Son (Thom Mckee's story), it's just as painfully wonderful . As are the rest of Melina's books. :)

  2. Don't worry, I've read all of Marchetta! It took me a few tries to like The Piper's Son, but I can honestly say I love that book now as well. Out of her fantasy series I put them in this order: Froi, Quintana, Finnikin. I feel like Alibrandi was a warm up for Saving Francesca, but I still enjoyed it. So glad that you love them too!