We recently asked Maggie Stiefvater, author of the popular fey book Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception if she would be interested in reviewing one of her own fave YA novels. Maggie chose Saving Francesca by Australian author, Melina Marchetta.
Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta
This morning, my mother didn’t get out of bed.
So begins SAVING FRANCESCA, the story of Francesca, one of the few girls going to St. Sebastian’s, a previously all-boys school. The joys of going to St. Sebastian’s are numerous: the sounds of musical burping and farting echoing through the halls, male-centered theater picks, and the general feeling of living in a fishbowl as the thirty girls go about their business amongst the seven-hundred-and-fifty boys who also attend the school.
But this is only sort of a book about being a girl in a boys’ school. It’s a fact that needles Francesca, but not as much as it needles Tara Finke, a slightly hilarious feminist schoolmate, and certainly not as much as it needles Francesca’s mother, Mia. Mia is a vivacious, passionate, take-no-prisoners sort of person, and Francesca has been living in her shadow for her entire life — until the beginning of the novel, when Mia doesn’t get out of bed.
When Mia’s sudden and all-encompassing depression leaves her bedridden, Francesca floats adrift, not realizing how much she had used the framework of Mia’s beliefs — the ones she didn’t believe in just as much as the ones she did — to live her life. Though Francesca’s narrating voice is bright and entertaining, the reader soon sees through her actions that she is, as the title suggests, definitely in need of saving.
Lest this all start to sound rather heavy, depressing, and angsty, I have to mention here that this novel is not what you expect. It is whimsical and occasionally laugh-out-loud, pulling you from the darker moments for some well-earned humor before returning you to some poignant observation.
One of my favorite parts of the entire book is the relationships between the couples. Francesca’s mother and father have a relationship that feels real and familiar; I identified very strongly with pre-depression Mia and thought their dialogue was just pitch-perfect. Francesca’s changing feelings toward the other characters is portrayed so beautifully and subtly through the close first-person point of view that I completely bought her disdain to crush to love relationship progression.
And yet I know that no matter how I describe the plot and characters of this book, I’m not conveying how much I love it. It’s that rare breed of literary novel that is nearly impossible to sum up tidily and yet still manages to drag the reader through the pages in happy captivity, in love with the prose and charmed by the dialogue and sighing with the slow twists of the plot as Francesca slowly saves herself.
I haven’t read Melina Marchetta’s JELLICOE ROAD yet, but based upon SAVING FRANCESCA, I’m not at all surprised that it just won the Printz.