Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 320
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked
For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, itâ€™s just been her, her mom, and her grandmother. Now itâ€™s her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldnâ€™t be any stricterâ€”but that doesnâ€™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 mom, 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 familyâ€™s pastâ€”and the year she sets herself free.
Told with unmatched depth and humor, this novelâ€”which swept the pool of Australian literary awards and became a major motion pictureâ€”is one to laugh through and cry with, to cherish and remember.
* * *
After falling in love with Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road, I was determined to read the rest of what Melina Marchetta has to offer. So the moment Easter rolled around, I bought myself a copy of her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except maybe the same Australian contemporary YA charm?
Josephine Alibrandi, or Josie, is the daughter of Christina Alibrandi, a single mother whose conception of her daughter got her embarrassed among the Italian community in Sydney. Josie is a headstrong young girl with a smart mouth who loves her mother and lives to annoy her grandmother, Katia Alibrandi. Josie is 17, a few months away from turning 18 and her “emancipation”. On her final year in St. Martha’s, she finds herself suddenly surrounded by men. First is the charming John Barton, wealthy, straight-A debater, who Josie has had a crush on for the longest time, but is also pursued by her nemesis, “Poison” Ivy. And then there’s Jacob Coote, Cook High school captain — he’s rough and wild, the typical bad boy, but he knows how to charm Josie in his own way. And finally, there’s Michael Andretti — Josie doesn’t like him the same way as she does John and Jacob, but his role as her biological father is something she cannot ignore.
Looking for Alibrandi is slightly lighter than Marchetta’s other works, and truth be told, I was waiting for a big punch in the gut while reading this one, just like what the two other books I read from her had. Josie’s personality is strong and loud, sometimes too strong that it makes me wonder if that’s how a 17 year old should act. And then I remember: wasn’t I also like that when I was 17? As always, Marchetta’s characters are all fleshed out, and I really liked the stories that Nonna Katia tells Josie. I had the same relationship with my grandmother, too, and like Josie, I’ve also answered back at her a little too many times when she was still alive. :( But I learned to appreciate her and see her as a strong woman and mother who only wants the best for her children and grandchildren, too. And speaking of family, I liked the development of Josie and her relationship with Michael. The progression felt natural even if it wasn’t in the most normal circumstances. I liked that the author banked on Josie’s father’s youth for doing the things he did, and not make him as a character with a bad rep (like someone who has a gambling addiction).
Josie may come off as annoying at first, but she grows on you as the story goes on. I also find the cultural aspect very interesting, especially with how the author wrote about the friction between Australians and Italians. I honestly had a hard time believing that Italians would be a victim of racism, because their being European by default makes me look up to them. But maybe that’s really what happens when you’re immigrants or came from immigrants where you live — it’s hard to feel at home especially when other people insist otherwise.
I didn’t really like Jacob Coote, but that’s just me because I never really liked bad boys. I found Josie and Jacob’s fighting and arguing a bit over the top, but I rooted for Josie even in the midst of her confusion. I honestly preferred John for Josie, but that boy had his own problems that he deserves to many hugs! John was the “Marchetta punch” in this novel, and like the other readers, it kind of left me gasping in disbelief. Trust Marchetta to do this to her reader.
It’s no Saving Francesca or Jellicoe Road, and it’s not my favorite Marchetta, but Looking for Alibrandi is a very good read. :) It’s an entertaining contemporary YA novel about family and being true to one self. I really wouldn’t expect less from Melina Marchetta, really.
Now to hunt for the movie adaptation.