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Saving Francesca    by Melina Marchetta order for
Saving Francesca
by Melina Marchetta
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Saving Francesca is set in Australia, and narrated in the first person by Francesca Spinelli. St. Sebastian's all boys school becomes coed, opening its doors to girls beginning in Year Eleven. Francesca's old school, St. Stella's, only goes to Year Ten. Most of Francesca's classmates move on to Pius Senior College, which Francesca would prefer. But no, no, says Francesca 'my mother, 'The Queen of Limitation Placers', says Pius only graduates girls with limited options!' So, 'off I go, reluctantly, to a predominantly all-boys school, 750 boys to 30 girls'.

Francesca describes school house leader Will Trombal as 'attractive but smug ... It's like two cultures had a massive fight over his face and neither won.' (If only Francesca could stop thinking about him; her heart beats faster when she sees him). What begins as Francesca's semi-rebellious, humorous story, turns into a teen's coming of age through torment and joy. Vivacious Mum suddenly keeps to her bed in depression, with varied analysis as to why and whose fault it is from grandparents, relatives, friends, and university colleagues. Francesca's view: 'I find I can't really describe what Mia has. People want symptoms. They want physical evidence. This thing my mum has is like the 'X-Files'. It can't be explained to the non-believer, and I'm just not ready to describe it'.

Months go by, and Francesca keeps hoping that Mum will snap out of it. Dad, brother Luca, and she actually miss Mum's daily pep talks. Maternal Nonna Celia moves in to take care of Mum, Luca is brought to Aunt Zia's home, and Francesca moves in with paternal Nonna Anna. Francesca knows that having her children living outside the home must be 'killing Mia more than a breakdown'. Difficult, heart-rending times - at home and school - pass for Francesca. But one day the air clears, and 'slowly the mornings begin to change. Nothing too friendly or exciting, but by the time I get to school, the sick feeling that I wake up with every morning disappears. Nor for long, but enough to get me through the day.'

Saving Francesca conveys real emotions, making clear that what shows on the surface doesn't always match what's going on inside. Melina Marchetta paints a magnificent story of a trying period in Francesca Spinelli's life, in a read that tugs at the heart, and will stay with you for a long time. Francesca says, 'When I grow up, I'm going to be my mother.'

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