I went up to bed last night around 10:30 with the intention of reading the first 2-3 chapters of Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. At 1:00 I closed the book. I just couldn't stop. I don't read much contemporary fiction, it has never been a genre that has interested me. This was my first foray into YA contemporary fiction. I may have to pay closer attention to this genre in the future.
Synopsis (from author's website):
Francesca battles her mother Mia constantly over what's best for her. All Francesca wants is her old friends and her old school, but instead Mia sends her to St Sebastian's, an all-boys' school that has just opened its doors to girls. Now Francesca's surrounded by hundreds of boys, with only a few other girls for company. All of them weirdos - or worse. Then one day, Mia is too depressed to get out of bed. One day turns into months and as her family begins to fall apart, Francesca realizes that without her mother's high spirits she hardly knows who she is. But she doesn't yet realize that she's more like Mia than she thinks. With a little unlikely help from St Sebastian's, she just might be able to save her family, her friends, and especially herself.
"There are thirty of us girls at Sebastian's and I want so much not to do the teenage angst thing, but I have to tell you that I hate the life that, according to my mother, I"m not actually having."
Francesca does indeed hate her life and that's mostly because she is wallowing in her anger and resentment of her situation. What I like about how the beginning of this story is written is that Francesca does not sound like an angsty teenager, making you want to roll your eyes and tell her to grow up. She simply sounds human. This is not a coming of age story but a story about a person who goes from wallowing to being the proactive controller of her own life. Francesca is in high school which makes this a YA novel but the story is one any age reader can identify with. Francesca is not always likeable. Her character has flaws making her relatable to the reader.
Francesca's thoughts on her school in the beginning:
"Girls just don't belong at St. Sebastian's. We belong in schools that were built especially for us, or in co-ed schools. St. Sebastian's pretends it's co-ed by giving us our own toilet. The rest of the place is all male and I know what you're thinking if you're a girl. What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it's either like living in a fishbowl or like you don't exist."
Francesca's thoughts on her school in the end:
"I love this school. I love how uncomplicated it is and the fact that we come from almost two hundred suburbs, so we have to work hard at finding something to hold us together. There's not a common culture or social group. There's a whole lot of individuality, where it doesn't matter that we're not all going to be heart surgeons and it doesn't matter whether you sing in a choir, or play a piano accordion, or lose dismally at rugby league, or are victorious in basketball."
This change in perception does not occur simply because Francesca changes but because she and her new friends and their changing dynamic change the school too. Every society is made of individuals and each individual impacts the society. Marchetta demonstrated this truth brilliantly simply by telling one individual's story.
The plot of the novel is grounded in reality. There is no reliance on overly dramatic or near tragic events. The events occuring in Francesca's life, the troubles of her family are ones that millions of people experience everyday. I loved all of the supporting characters of the novel as well. Francesca's friends are just as real and human as she is and there is no reliance on overused stereotypes in depicting them. The ending left me with a sense of completion but it wasn't perfectly clean and tidy because there never is a perfectly clean and tidy ending in life. Life is messy and an ongoing series of events. The end balanced that reality with a nice sense of closure at the same time.
Melina Marchetta is now on my must read list. I'm looking forward to reading her other novels.