Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Saving Francesca

Author: Melina Marchetta

Published: May 31, 2006

Number of Pages: 243

Rating: 4/5


Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, 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 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 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. [From Goodreads]


I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I’m sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, “Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.”

I want to be an adjective again. But I’m a noun.

A nothing. A nobody. A no one.


If I could write ballads or sonnets or, well, anything that resembled poetry and didn’t rhyme something like “party” with “tarty”, I would write a sonnet/ballad/poem that expressed my devoted readership to Melina Marchetta. Goodness knows she deserves it (and deserves better, actually, because it would still probably be terrible). Jellicoe Road blew me away and has since stuck with me. I think of the paths and grounds around the boarding school whenever I visit the land my family owns and imagine building a tree house or fort. I love that feeling I get when I look at something and memories come to me that aren’t mine, but belong to characters in a book. Melina Marchetta creates stories that you feel are yours. Saving Francesca was not a disappointment in this regard (or any other).

There are certain characteristics that hit you right off, such as Melina’s totally amazing (why can’t I think of a better adjective? Even “astounding” and “awe-inspiring” sound cliché.) prose. Next, the expert way she introduces back-story without losing you and manages to flesh out Francesca’s voice in the process. There are just so many things to learn from a writer’s perspective by reading Melina Marchetta’s novel. Even more importantly, there are so many things to admire from a reader’s standpoint as well.

Saving Francesca is undeniably a story of characters. The plot was not the seed of the book, but the characters, and from that sprouts a fascinating web of events and scenes that will keep your eyes locked to the page. I was surprised by how many secondary characters Melina manages to juggle, and though sometimes they blurred for me (that could be credited to how quickly I read it – one afternoon), they added elements to the main plot and additional subplots that the book could not have “lived” without. I absolutely adore the characters in this book. The friendships – specifically the odd but organic development of the friendships – between these characters are inspiring and, honestly, SO CUTE. They have their little animosities, they have their bigger ones, but in the end, they benefit more than they lose from being close.

Francesca’s life has certainly taken a turn for the worst, and by beginning with a drastic change in lifestyle and family, there is so much more room for development and growth and “coming into herself”. I loved watching Francesca as she blossomed – that tight, caved-in, constricted feeling of her personality at the beginning, the cracks that slowly wound their way about her, and the eventual and gradual burst of FRANCESCA! that we’re left with at the end is fabulous.

I think what I really admire about books like this is the fact that they are absolutely bursting with everything that constitutes life. I said something similar about Looking for Alaska, actually. There’s this pull I have toward books that juggle difficult situations in which people are forced to confront every ghastly emotion imaginable. Hatred, frustration, self-loathing, disappointment, guilt, confusion, etc. The more severe the bad feelings, the more gorgeous the good ones. Because of some of the crazy and, admittedly, depressing emotions Francesca and the other characters felt, I got to witness the expansive range of human qualities that fill up our lives, all in 243 pages.

Unfortunately, this book also has a few of the features I dislike – such as swearing and some sexual conversation, but it’s certainly cleaner than Looking for Alaska or Jellicoe Road. It’s so often that the books I really love have this content I despise, and it’s all so confusing. However, it doesn’t feel wrong recommending this book to YA readers 14 or over. If you’re a parent, I’d recommend reading it yourself and then making a decision, but it really isn’t too bad.

Overall, Saving Francesca is all those adjectives I can’t think of. Think synonyms of beautiful, astounding, and exceptional. Better yet, skip all that and think: I need to read this.

2 Commentsto “Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta; Review”

  1. YAY! Aweomse review Madeleine, I can't even remember how many times I've reread this book. I don't think it blew me away the first time I did, but after going back and picking up all the brilliant stuff Melina Marchetta has inserted in there, it's become one of my favourites 🙂 The Piper's Son has a bit more mature content though, but if you do try it, I hope you like it! =)

    • I've actually read THE PIPER'S SON and really liked it. I agree that it was a lot more mature (and depressing), but I can't resist Marchetta's books!

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