Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA, Drama, Family
Publication Date: 5th of October 1992 (first published, later republished in 2006) by Random House
Reminds me of: There’s some similarities to Jodi Picoult
This book has made it onto my Favourite Books of All Time list, so expect some babbling and gushing. I didn’t think it fair to post the entire review I smashed out, it’s just so long. So I’ve left in my favourite elements and hope you enjoy them too. Before I begin have a read of the blurb:
For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it’s just been her, her mom, and her grandmother. Now it’s her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldn’t be any stricter—but that doesn’t seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into her life.
Caught between the old-world values of her Italian grandmother, the no-nonsense wisdom of her mum, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josephine is on the ride of her life. This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past—and the year she sets herself free. Taken from Goodreads.
Looking for Alibrandi is probably the most accurate thing I have ever read. Coming from an Italian background and living in Australia this book resonated with me on a really personal level. Marchetta’s ability to take the piss out of her own culture was so hilariously and skilfully done – it would have to be my favourite element of the novel. See what I mean:
“…and what’s this I hear about you and your friends driving around Bondi Junction half-dressed last week?”
“Who told you that?”
“Signora Formosa saw you. She said you and your friends almost ran her over. She told Zia Patrizia’s next-door neighbour and it got back to Nonna.”
The telephone company would go broke if it weren’t for the Italians.
It was so honest and heartfelt that I can’t really scrutinise anything. I got the impression a lot of it was based off Marchetta’s own upbringing, especially the basis of her characters’ values and opinions. Even Josephine’s perceptions of racism in Australia made me think they had to resemble Marchetta’s own views. They were too deep and intrinsic to be made up purely for a novel – I suppose doing some research would clarify this for me, but it’s just the impression I got from her tone.
Looking for Alibrandi is set in Sydney’s inner city suburbs. I love the Australian culture employed in the novel – I loved reading about places I not only know of, but know how to navigate around like; Darling Harbour, George Street, Martin Place Station… it was so refreshing to read a book and actually know the exact whereabouts of these places! I was able to visualise her descriptions of setting and compare them with my own perceptions. Highlighting the differences between the components Marchetta labels the most prominent of a place, and comparing them with my own, was a really new way for me to relate to a novel. I don’t read a lot of Australian fiction, so that would explain its newness to me.
I also loved the contrast between the Australian and Italian upbringings of her characters. It really put my own upbringing into perspective and also the upbringing of the people I went to school with, the people I engaged in friendships with and the people whose curfews were always significantly later than mine. But is it done to an extreme? My own personal experiences were never as stark as Josephine’s so it made me question the integrity of the level of racism Marchetta is talking about. Did she exaggerate it for the purpose of the plot? It was first published in 1992, and I was born a year later – so there’s no doubt Australian society progressed at some level. It was still eighteen years till I’d be in the same position Josephine is in at the time the book was written. But then I remembered back to my final year of high school, and I pictured clearly the different groups everyone sat in at lunch. There was always a clear division between the “wogs” and the “Aussies”. It wasn’t in a harsh or intentionally exclusive way, it was just how things happened to pan out. And the slurs thrown about are ones I still hear out and about today (my favourite being Carly’s tirade about a nightclub being “the pits” because it was filled with filthy wogs). But they were never slurs thrown around at school – there’s definitely been a degree of progression.
While there is a heavy emphasis on culture and relationships with family, there’s also ever-present drama and scandal – which of course made it all the better. There were two big shocking twists, and for once I actually predicted one of them SPOILER ALERT (John’s suicide). John’s depression was drawn upon so many separate times, that I knew there had to be a greater significance than to simply exemplify the extreme pressures of the HSC. All I could think was Great, she’s pulled a John Green. But she really executed Josephine’s reaction to John’s death quite differently. There was a lot of anger and not as much depression acceptance in comparison to other reads. It worked really well. It’s important to remember there is no textbook way to grieve. It’s a personal experience and is never the same for any two people. As awful as John’s death was, I wasn’t sobbing like a baby – I resented him much like Josie. It’s this sort of manipulation Marchetta executes so wonderfully. She connects to her reader so intensely; you almost become one with Josie.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Looking for Alibrandi will get nothing less than five stars from me. Really I urge any YA fan to give it a read, especially any other Australians out there. I can promise you’ll really connect with this novel irrespective of what ethnicity you are.