Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018
This is a tough one to review because I’m not quite sure how I felt about this book. Looking for Alibrandi was Melina Marchetta’s first book and it’s been on my TBR for a very long time. On the Jellicoe Road is the first Marchetta book I read and it still remains my favourite of her books (and one of my favourite books of all time). I keep hoping that one of her other books will be better than Jellicoe Road, but they never are.
This was a fun book. I really liked Josie. She was spunky and I laughed out loud at her more than once. I haven’t read a YA book like this one in a while and sinking into Marchetta’s writing is like sinking into a hot bath. It feels so nice and comforting. I didn’t love Looking for Alibrandi and I did take issue with the main romantic relationship in the novel, but I also appreciate what Melina did with this book.
Josephine Alibrandi is in her final year of high school and she’s determined to do well on her HSC exams so that she can become a barrister (it’s set in Australia). Josie has never quite taken herself seriously and sees herself as an outcast because of her heritage. Her grandparents moved to Australia from Italy in the 1940’s and she’s been raised heavily Italian. Her mom became pregnant with her at 17, alienating herself from her family, and raised Josie on her own, without any support from Josie’s father.
Josie struggles to belong because of her heritage and because she goes to a catholic high school, she is largely shamed because of her single mother. She’s had a crush on do-gooder John Barton for years, but she finds herself enamoured with the rough-around-the-edges Jacob Coote after she meets him at a regional school event. To top things off, when her father unexpectedly shows up in Sydney, she knows she’s in for a whirlwind senior year.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book, the biggest of which was the insight Marchetta provides into race relationships in Australia. Many of the Australians are actively racist against the families that immigrated from Italy and Greece in the 1940’s and 1950’s and there’s an interesting dynamic between Josie and some of her classmates. I enjoyed when Josie learned about her Italian heritage and how she learned to accept it and appreciate it.
I also liked the relationship she built with her father and the dynamic between her and the rest of her family. Her relationship with her mother and grandmother felt very real. At first you wonder if any of them actually like each other and they all seem a bit bipolar in how they treat one another, but when I think of my family and how we can one minute all be screaming at each other and the next minute happily sitting down for dinner, it rings true of that special bond that you can have with your family that I’ve never experienced in any other friendship.
The reason I liked Josie’s relationship with her Dad though is that it was so anti-dramatic. Children finding their birth parents always has a super dramatic and emotional narrative, but I loved that Josie was so secure in herself and her family relationships that meeting her father was just an event that happened to her. She never felt like she was lacking anything and when she finally did meet her father, it was just this interesting opportunity to get to know him. I never felt emotionally manipulated by the author in any of the relationships.
Now, to the part I didn’t like: Jacob Coote. Am I supposed to like this character? He reminded me a little of Rhett Bulter in Gone With the Wind in that he never conformed to what Josie wanted him to be and was the only one her called her out on her bullshit. I feel like we’re supposed to like him for refusing to change himself, but I never liked Rhett and I didn’t like Jacob either. He was just straight up not reasonable and in my opinion, not really respectful either. He gave Josie shit about stuff that I didn’t think was any of his business, like her relationship with John Barton and her opinions of when to have sex. And when he complained about meeting her mom and then kicked up a stink when she didn’t want him to meet her grandmother? Get over yourself Jacob and respect Josie!
Anyways, I was still pretty pleased with how this book went and it’s given me a huge hankering to re-read Jellicoe Road. The Piper’s Son is now the only Marchetta book I haven’t read, so I’ll need to get around to that one too!
My recommendation would be to skip this book and go straight to Jellicoe Road!