Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Saving Francesca

Knopf Books for Young Readers
Melina Marchetta

Leaving the familiarity of her old all-girls' school for St. Sebastians, a formerly all-boys' school that only "pretends to be co-ed" is hard enough, but even more difficult is what happens when Francesca's vivacious, irritating, larger-than-life mother becomes depressed. With her mother ill with a sickness she can't explain, Francesca's family falters, then falls apart -- and she has no idea who she is anymore.

I read (and loved) The Piper's Son, which is a sequel/companion novel to this, taking place years later and centered on a different character, so I was eager to see if Saving Francesca was anything like it. And honestly I felt a sort of duty to go back and play "catch up" with these characters I loved so much. I think because of that I came at this book with a different perspective than I would have otherwise had. 

To be honest, I'm hesitant about this book. Even having read and enjoyed it, I'm hesitant. It took me about 70 pages to really fall into the rhythm of the book and become invested; Francesca's an interesting and realistic character, but she's convinced she has no personality. In fact, she wants to have no personality. To be overlooked, ignored, left to her own devices. And it's not until her mother falls ill that she gets her wish and discovers that maybe it's not all she wants after all. This book explores the dynamics of Francesca's family in a way that works incredibly well while also letting Francesca's personal story shine though. Starting at St. Sebastian's means leaving all her old friends behind and being tossed in with girls and boys she'd never typically choose as friends or even acquaintances. Yet it's these characters and the relationships she forms with them that really bring the book -- and Francesca herself -- to life.

I think part of the reason it took me a while to get fully immersed in the book is because the new group of friends Francesca makes -- immature but complicated boys and girls who, unlike her previous friends, have her back completely -- don't come together as a cohesive, primary focus of the book for quite a while. This is Francesca's story and it has different facets: family, self, old friends, new friends, and each of these facets is focused on at a different point in the book. Marchetta does a wonderful job of creating complicated, multi-layered relationships between her characters and watching Francesca's new friendships develop, and help her grow into her (hidden, but obviously sarcastic and awesome) personality is one of the best, most enjoyable parts of this book. Because I'd already read The Piper's Son, which takes place years later, I think I went into Saving Francesca expecting more out of certain characters and relationships, so while they're not exactly a series, if you can read Francesca first, I definitely recommend it.

This book handles some very real topics that could easily become overly-depressing, but Marchetta manages to blend the drama and deep sadness of Francesca's life with some much-needed humor and sarcasm, making the book a great mixture of serious and light-hearted. I definitely liked it.

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