Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastian’s, a boys’ school that’s pretends it’s coed by giving the girls their own bathroom. Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an impossibly dorky accordion player. The boys are no better, from Thomas, who specializes in musical burping, to Will, the perpetually frowning, smug moron that Francesca can’t seem to stop thinking about.
Then there’s Francesca’s mother, who always thinks she knows what’s best for Francesca—until she is suddenly stricken with acute depression, leaving Francesca lost, alone, and without an inkling of who she really is. Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.
I got my hands on Saving Francesca in March 2013, shortly after reading Jellicoe Road (review here) – kind of late to the Melina Marchetta party, but I tell you: Melina Marchetta novels are definitely worth it. When I first read Saving Francesca its impact on me wasn’t as unerring as Jellicoe Road probably because I was destroyed by the previous book so much the feeling stayed with me until I come into contact with another that will slay me into tiny pieces and remain catatonic for a couple of weeks (or months, who knows?).
Now that I’ve gone through it again, I stand by what I said when I first read it. It’s not that I didn’t like it or it’s a bad novel. It’s more like — dare I say it — I find it to be the weakest (yes, I’ve said it) of the three I’ve read (almost done with The Piper’s Son and it’s fantastic).
First of all, I do think that Saving Francesca is a great contemporary YA novel. It absolutely has Aha! moments and that’s why I like it. The characters are multifaceted which I found to be one of Melina Marchetta’s strengths. I think Francesca is strongest in her weakest moments that you find yourself rooting for her all the more. And even if she was temporarily lost, her little quirks shone and stayed until she got her momentum back.
Second, I love how Francesca has real people problems. I know how it’s fun to sometimes read something out of the ordinary, something that rarely happens to people like you and me but I realized that nothing beats harsh reality. Days of fighting dragons and going on wicked adventures is incomparable to uncomfortable days and nights waiting for your mother to overcome depression.
And third, I love how relationships are portrayed in this novel (in all of Melina Marchetta’s novels, actually). I love how it’s not just exploring romantic relationships between two coming-of-age people but also the dynamic of a suddenly dysfunctional household, of group of friends, and of one’s relationship with the self – Marchetta has covered it all.
Those three would have been enough but there was a nagging feeling inside of me midway through the book that I should know more about Jimmy Hailler. He’s one of those secondary characters that I believe has all the potential to be a primary character. From where I am standing (or sitting), I think he’s got as much vulnerability and profoundness as all of the primary characters in this book. Also, let’s not forget how important his character is in the betterment of Mia.
Saving Francesca may not be as life changing to me as others might tag it but it is a beguiling story of finding (and saving) yourself. Highly recommended. 4 out 5 stars.