The Piper’s Son

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt; work at the Union pub with his former friends; and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either?

An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son masterfully redefines what it means to go home again.

Here’s the scoop: When we first met Thomas Mackee in Saving Francesca, he came across as, well, a bit of a tool.  As we got to know him better, we saw that he was actually a pretty decent guy— if only slightly self-involved— who came to love his friends with an intensity similar to the love he felt for his own family.

In this novel, Marchetta takes the focus away from Francesca and her painful issues and shines a spotlight on Tom.  It’s been five years since we last saw him and in that time his world has fallen apart.  His alcoholic father has abandoned him along with his mom and beloved younger sister (neither of whom Tom has seen in ages) and now Tom wanders aimlessly through life, angry at his father, Dominic,  and barely acknowledging the friends he once loved.  He lives with a quiet, painful regret over how he ended things with his former best friend, Tara Finke (or was she his love?  Even Tom can scarcely admit the truth).

Tom moves in with his aunt Georgie, who also has some serious issues going down.  For starters, Georgie is preggers with the child of her estranged boyfriend, Sam.  Sam wants to be a part of her life, but there is some bad history there.  Georgie in particular has had a difficult time overcoming it and allowing them to move on, leaving them in this weird state of limbo.  Worse, Georgie is very sad about her twin brother, Dominic’s, disappearance and his abandonment of Tom and their entire family.  She worries for him, but instead of feeling the resentment that Tom feels, Georgie still practically idolizes Dominic, despite the flawed man he seems to be.

Compounding the pain for everyone involved is the sudden death of Georgie and Dom’s little brother, Joe,  two years earlier.  It’s as if his death has stunted everyone—Georgie, Sam, Dominic and Tom.  No one has moved forward since that tragedy.  Both Tom and Georgie come to grips with their losses in different ways.  Georgie lives in an almost constant state of depression, hearkening back to memories of the old days when both of her brothers were around and her life was intact. Tom is more destructive, pushing everyone away, sometimes rationalizing it, but always regretting the turn he’s taken. It only complicates matters more when Dominic returns and also moves in with Georgie.  There is a palpable weight and tension in the silence between him and his son. It brings up even more questions for Tom about why his father hasn’t returned to his mother and why he’s had to ruin the image they once lived as the perfect family.

As with any Marchetta story, this is a guaranteed winner. Her writing is always beautiful and touching.  As with Jellicoe Road, she weaves the storylines of two generations together.  At times it can be mildly confusing because of the sheer volume of characters, but the stories themselves overflow with realism.  Tom and Georgia are flawed, but not to the point that they aren’t lovable (in fact, quite the opposite).  They both react in ways that made me absolutely cringe (especially Tom, who I constantly wanted to chastise  because I knew he was better than that, thus again proving how brilliant Marchetta is.  I just felt so attached to him).

Though the story moves at a slow, sometimes melancholy pace, I thought it was fantastic.  I was in tears in several parts and when it was over I was so sad to see it all come to a close.  My happily ever after loving self might have prefered to believe that after Saving Francesca everyone went on to live their own version of a perfect life, but that was not the case with these friends.  In the end, that’s what makes The Piper’s Son so enjoyable and so very real.  It shows that life goes on and that— despite the fact that everything isn’t always perfect— is a good thing.

Crush Intensity: 4.5/5 Read it, but read Saving Francesca firstIt’s not a requirement to understand the story, but I think it helps in understanding how much Tom has changed and in understanding his relationship with the girls (or rather, why in the heck they still put up with him when he’s acting like a jerkface).

Memorable Quotes:

His father speaks to almost everyone in the hall.  They all gravitate to him the way people always have.  And they all want to meet Tom.  To tell him that even though they’ve only known Dominic a couple of weeks, they all love him.  Does his father do it on purpose?  Cause people to have a dependency on him so that when he is gone, it’s hard to cope?

One more:

Sometimes he feels a pull toward Francesca.  She was the reason he came into their group.  It was her misery that united them and somehow it ended up being her personally that kept them together when everyone split.  She’s the one who writes the letters to keep the world informed.  She listens to the news every hour to make sure everyone’s safe. So tonight he walks away even though she’s moved forward to give him a hug.  Because he wants to kiss her, and knows she’ll hate him for it and that he’ll hate himself.  He knows it’s for all the wrong reasons and that he’ll end up thinking of Tara Finke and her Brazilian peacekeeper and Will Tromball and the way he doesn’t do romance but eats the space between him and Frankie anytime he’s in the room with her.

Ok, last one. Really:

He kisses her and wants to beg her and the others to never give up on him. Ever. But he gets a feeling that he would be preaching to the converted.

Saving Francesca

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.

Memorable Quote:

“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.