Title: Saving Francesca
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
A compelling story of romance, family, and friendship with humor and heart, perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Lauren Myracle.
Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastian’s, a boys’ school that 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.
It’s almost sad when you end up loving a book that you didn’t plan on reading – after all, it makes you wonder how many other amazing books are out there that you looked at and didn’t bother opening. Luckily for me, I did open this book up, and it feels like it’ll leave an impact on me long after I’ve put it down.
The beginning of this book is probably the only reason I didn’t give it a whole 5 stars. It took me nearly a week of reading the first twenty or thirty pages – they weren’t bad, I just wasn’t that interested. Things seemed disjointed and Francesca confused me. Was she shy or confident? Did she like her mother or did she despise her? Did I like this book or was it just not for me? It wasn’t until today (today as in the day I write this review, not the day it’s posted) that I read the majority of it, but I read it all in a couple of hours, so the beginning was simply a small hurdle that I needed to get over.
This book is just as much about Francesca’s mother’s story as it is about Francesca. Her mother, Mia, has depression, and Francesca is left dealing with the fallout. This story is just as much about Francesca dealing with Mia’s depression as it is about Mia’s journey. It’s about Francesca dealing with it and also deciding just who she is, both in and out of any of her friendships and other relationships.
At the beginning, I was also unsure about all of the characters, but that was because Francesca was unsure about them. She was quite a bit judgmental, so we only really saw everyone in terms of one or two specific traits that Francesca was focused on. Siobhan is a slut, Tara is a straw feminist, Justine is dorky, Thomas is immature, Jimmy is mean, and Will has no personality. In the first part of the story, that’s all these people are, but the more you read, the more their personalities grow, just as Francesca’s relationship with them does. I started out not really caring for any of them, and by the end I desperately wanted them all to be my own friends.
There’s also Francesca’s family. Francesca lives in Australia, but she has a very Italian family. I have some friends who come from similar Italian families, so that’s what I kept comparing Francesca’s family with. The names (nonno and nonna are “Grandpa” and “Grandma,” zia is “Aunt” – look, I know Italian!), the closeness, the familial drama – it all reminded me of my friends, and that made it feel even more genuine. Francesca doesn’t love all of her family completely, but isn’t that all family?
As I said, this book takes place in Australia, which means I was unsure about a few things (like what the American equivalent of Year 11 and 12 was – as you could probably figure out, it’s junior and senior year, but I think the ages are slightly different, and their school terms are different, like the fact they start in our summer, their version of fall (I think)), but I was never really that confused. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot more Australian books in the past few years, or simply because Melina Marchetta is good at making her story feel universal.
The Adult Situation
As I’ve already said, this book is just as much about Mia dealing with her depression, along with her husband, daughter, and son. It comes out of nowhere for the characters and us as well since the book starts with the first day Mia doesn’t get out of bed. As a result, Francesca’s parents both play a big role in the story without them actually being there for her much of the time – but that’s part of the story. Francesca’s relationship with her parents has to change and grow, and that’s a difficult thing for Francesca to figure out, as it is for anyone else growing up.
There is romance in this book, and it’s complicated and difficult and sometimes adorable, but it never takes over the story, and I love that fact. Part of the reason might be because this book is kind of short – less than 250 pages – but I think it’s also because romance is just a small part of Francesca’s journey. The guy she falls for can be maddening at times and much too smug and scared for his own good, but by the end I found myself rooting for them a bit.
I was a bit of a mess by the end of this book. I was tearing up and I was desperate to get to the end and at the same time I didn’t want it to end at all and I just had so many emotions and the only way I can express that is by writing a long, run-on sentence to express those thoughts. This was a technique that Marchetta herself used in some of the more emotional, complicated moments, and I just couldn’t help myself.
How did I almost skip out on this book? It was one of those books that showed up in recommendations on Goodreads for months, and I wanted to read it, but I just didn’t know enough about it and didn’t want to risk it. Then I realized that I was being silly – the summary interested me and I wasn’t reading it because I hadn’t read enough reviews and there wasn’t enough hype? If I ever feel that way in the future, hopefully that’s a sign that I’ll love that book as much as I did this one.