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 who she really is.
Here’s the scoop:
Francesca is sixteen and attending St. Sebastian’s, formerly an all boys academy. In its first year of co-ed education, St. Sebastian’s still operates as if the fairer sex is not actually a part of the student body. The boys are crass (Marchetta has a great paragraph where Frankie describes the finer points of boys and their gastrointestinal issues. Meaning, they think it’s awesomely funny to let ’em rip in mixed company. Hottie alert. Not.), they tend to be sexist and the teachers still address the class saying, “Gentlemen…”
Francesca would rather be at her old school with her old friends, but her mother pressed her to attend St. Sebastian’s. Now she has no real friends and has somehow been nominated to stand as an advocate for the girls as they deal with the boy’s house leader, Will Trombal. And guys, let me tell you, it’s pretty hilarious when one of the things that the girls want her to demand is a tampon machine. Mortifying! But so funny.
Of all the difficult changes Frankie is experiencing, the most dramatic is within her own family. Her mother, the formerly vivacious, lively center of the family, begins to suffer from severe depression. She barely speaks, won’t go to work and won’t eat. The situation is crippling not only to her, but to Frankie, her father and her little brother. They don’t know how to function in their daily lives without her–not only without her taking care of them, but without her being the driving force of the family. Listen to it described so simply in Frankie’s words:
My mother won’t get out of bed, and it’s not that I don’t know who she is anymore. It’s that I don’t know who I am.
This book is fantastic (of course. It’s Melina Marchetta, creator of Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs, right?). Francesca is a funny main character, sarcastic and self-deprecating in a sweet, endearing sort of way. While at first she’s apathetic about the new group of friends she falls in with, watching the evolution of her character as she begins to be honest about her situation, and seeing them become a rock to her (and to one another) as she grapples with the realities of life without her mom–it’s perfect. It’s painful and touching, but funny and still laced with all the normal issues a girl her age should face.
Outside of Marchetta’s beautiful words, the cast of characters makes this book. There’s Tara, Justine, Jimmy, Siobhan and Thomas, each funny and unique in their own way. And the love story is full of awkwardness and sweet moments that get sort of fumbled up. Will Trombal, Frankie’s big crush, is no Jonah Griggs, but he manages to be sweet and annoying, and kind of jerky and adorable all at once.
To sum it up, I’d read pretty much anything written by Melina Marchetta–unfinished novels, grocery lists, whatever. She’s amazing. I loved this book. Every single word.
Crush Intensity: 5/5 I laughed out loud about a million times and, yeah, I cried too. But though this book is very touching, it’s not in any way depressing. It’s so, so good. This is one I’ll read again.
“My mother’s had a nervous breakdown. She’s suffering from depression and she won’t get out of the house. And every day it’s killing us more.”
I can’t believe I’ve said it out loud. The truth doesn’t set you free, you know. It makes you feel awkward and embarrassed and defenseless and red in the face and horrified and petrified and vulnerable. But free? I don’t feel free. I feel like shit.