Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta

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.

 

I always find it tough to write a review for one of Marchetta’s books. How are my words, so weak compared to hers, supposed to accurately describe the beauty she managed to capture in another one of her books? How will I be able to talk about her characters and the way she handles them and their emotions without crying or screaming or picking up the book again? Anyway, I still think that the best way to read a Marchetta book is to go into it completely clueless; don’t even read the synopsis. Just trust that you are in for the experience of a lifetime and dive in. And I guarantee, you will not regret it.

 

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it once again; characters are Marchetta’s strongest point. The way she shapes and describes them, the way she handles their feelings and their actions, is absolutely magnificent. I don’t think anyone can quite compare to her tremendous talent. Even characters that may seem insignificant or secondary at first, end up having a very special place in your heart. And the characters of Saving Francesca are no exception. From Francesca to Will to Siobhan to Jimmy to Tara to Thomas…. everyone is just so beautifully written, so interesting and so real, that you fall a little bit in love with every one of them. You feel for them, you root for them, you cry for them…

 

Saving Francesca is an example of flawless pacing. The entire book flows so naturally, so smoothly and is written in such a beautiful prose that it’s almost atmospheric in a Donna Tarrt type of way; its very own “aura” captivates and intrigues you, making it impossible to put the book down, even if nothing major is happening. Its easy rhythm leaves space for the characters to grow, with no huge plots or milestones that leave no room for character development. By combining a slower pace with deep and strong characterization, Marchetta has managed to create a quick, yet deeply emotional read.

 

A key element that made this story even more so wonderful is its handling of Mia’s – Francesca’s mum – depression. It is not just an accurate depiction; we got to see and explore Francesca’s fears about her own future and her worrying about her mother and her well-being and her entire family as well. I also think that Marchetta did a phenomenal job at portraying the stigma that follows mental illness, as well as the misconceptions people have towards (battling) depression.

 

Now that I’ve read this, I just can’t wait to get my hands on The Piper’s Son; I was hoping this book would focus on Jimmy, since he crawled his way into my heart and became one of my favourite characters of the novel, but it’s for Thomas which is practically the next best thing. Definitely a book I will be reading soon.

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