Category Archives: AWW2016

Saving Francesca

Saving FrancescaSaving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like Saving Francesca more than I did. After all, it’s about a topic close to my heart: depression. In particular, it’s about the effects on a family when a parent is incapacitated by depression.

It’s not really fair for me to measure this depiction in view of my own experience of a parent with depression. Every family will experience it differently; indeed, every person within a family will experience it differently. So, while Francesca’s experience didn’t always ring true for me, I could appreciate what an important topic it is for writers of YA Literature to address. After reading so many YA books wherein parents die, the far more common reality of clinical depression is due more attention.

The strength of this novel is the characterisation of Francesca’s friend and family groups. As with Looking for Alibrandi, I found myself enjoying the lead character’s interactions with her school friends more than with the love interest. I guess Prince Charming is doomed to be a boring character type. Marchetta also writes developed teachers and school administrators; for the most part, they genuinely care about and respect the young people in their care. (Of course, there’s always one bad apple who really shouldn’t be teaching.)

Overall, I found myself laughing out loud at the antics of Francesca’s friends and extended family, and being moved to tears by her love for her brother. But I screamed internally at some of Francesca’s overwrought monologues and raised my eyebrow sceptically at a group of Year 11’s knowledgeable discussions of multiple Shakespeare plays.

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Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big In This?Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first thought about Does My Head Look Big In This? was, “It’s Looking for Alabrandi for a new generation.” That impression may have more to do with the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to using the same wide-eyed tone that characterised the reader of the audiobook version of Alibrandi. Still, the similarities don’t end there. Both books have young, female protagonists who, simply because of their cultural and religious backgrounds, have no option but to think about their place in the world. Unlike the predominantly Anglo-Australians each girl goes to school with, they’re required to move between two worlds as often as they go to school and return home each day.

In this book, the central character, Amal, makes the decision to become a full-time wearer of the hijab. Her parents are concerned about the response she will attract from her school and friends, while her school and friends demand to be reassured her parents haven’t forced her to wear the hijab against her will. Inevitably, perhaps, Amal becomes representative of Islam and every act done in its name; consequently, she is required by non-Muslims to explain the atrocity of events like the Bali bombings and, to the well-intentioned, be a spokesperson and educator on her religion.

First published in 2005, I think this might be an early attempt in young adult literature to help young people explore issues of religious identity in a post-September 11 world. In Australia, the Bali bombings, which are featured in the novel, would have added a particular urgency to the need for this kind of discussion. Certainly, there’s a sense that Abdel-Fattah wrote a list of the most common expressions of ignorance and bigotry towards Muslim-Australians and incorporated them into the experiences of Amal, her friends and family. It feels quite jam-packed and sometimes didactic. That said, Does My Head Look Big In This? has made me curious about other books from the perspectives of other western Muslims.

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Looking for Alibrandi

Looking for AlibrandiLooking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I think if I’d read this book twenty-three years ago I’d have appreciated it more. It’s a coming of age story from what seems to be a more innocent time: pre-September 11, pre-social media; from an era when a family gathering to make a year’s worth of passata was cause for embarrassment rather than a mark of culinary cosmopolitanism and a sure-fire ticket to the MasterChef grand final.

I suppose it’s a good thing that third-generation Italian-Australian Josephine Alibrandi’s narration of the trials of her final year in high school now seems dated; being of southern European descent, a ‘wog’, no longer attracts unfavourable commentary from the casually racist in this country. Not that there’s much evidence, more broadly, that Australian society has become less racist in the intervening years–attention has merely shifted to more recent migrants who have arrived in Australia after fleeing war and persecution in their homelands.

For better or worse, the storyline around the mental well-being of one of Josephine’s friends has stood the test of time. I look forward to the day when John Barton’s fate is rendered unbelievable.

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