Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Publisher: Knopf Books
Release Date: May 9th, 2006
My Goodreads rating: 5/5

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 of who she really is. Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.

I did not plan for Saving Francesca to be my first review here at Feminists Talk Books, but I am so glad it is. It's pretty damn perfect to get me going.

I've met Marchetta before, over in Lumatere, and I've met her female characters. I never doubted that her contemporary ladies would be any less vibrant, complex and distinct. That said, I was not prepared for the amount of awesome that I discovered within this book.

It's my first review and I'm already going to break out A LIST. I love lists. Get used to it.


It really struck me while reading this how HELPFUL this would have been for me as a teenager. Don't get me wrong - I'm 25 and I loved it, and I'm sure I would have loved it if I was 45 - but one of the running plot points is Frankie realising which people are her real friends.

Your teen years are transformative and full of discovery, even if they feel a bit mundane day-to-day. You discover a lot about yourself, the world around you, and what you want from it. And your body is changing, in so many ways. It's tough to handle all of that, and sometimes you just want to fit in somewhere. You almost just want to be average.

When I started secondary school I went from a very small primary school to something much bigger. In primary school I had been known and quite popular, but I shot down to being an unknown. I was actually very lucky to make some genuine friends off the bat, but I also desperately wanted to be in the top dog group because that was what I was used too. So I became friends with the cool kids, and it was the exact same sort of situation that you see between Frankie and Michaela in Saving Francesca (though I was younger when it happened to me).I put up with so much crap, and I made excuses for the friends that weren't really friends. I also hid certain aspects of my personality from them because I knew they'd mock me.

This book tackles that sort of situation, which I suspect is fairly common in high school, and it is perfect. The book shows very clearly that it is better to be yourself, rather than to fit yourself to some sort of mould. True friends accept you for who you are, and the other people are not worth.
I think this is such an important message for all kids, but particularly young girls. I'm already planning on handing my future children a copy of Saving Francesca when they start secondary school.


I'll talk about the boys in a moment, but the four girls at the heart of this book are just wonderful. Marchetta shows the relationship between them unfold so naturally. It's fun because they're 'technically' friends at the start, but the reader gets to watch them ACTUALLY become friends.

We have Tara who instantly won my heart. Right from the get go she is introduced as a feminist that is fighting for all the girls at Sebastian's. She gets all the standard insults thrown her way, namely being called a lesbian - as if it's an insult. But she lets nothing faze her.

Siobhan is the 'slut' and pretty much any time a character gets called a slut, I know I'll end up loving them. She is NOT ashamed and nor should she be.

Justine is the gentle and sensitive soul of the group, and I think she's kind of the glue that pulled them together in the first place. Her sweetness is never too much, and always heart warming.

And then we have Frankie. Being in Frankie's head early on can be somewhat frustrating, simply because it's easy to SEE the truth of her situation as a reader. But I found her journey, and her slow evolution into HERSELF an absolute joy to watch.

I could read these four girls interact forever.


Our setting for a large chunk of this book is the school which was, until recently, an all boys school. The large majority of students there are boys, and the inclusion of girls has definitely not been a flawless transition.

The sexist environment is entirely convincing because it is NOT over the top. I really appreciated that. A lot of the issues the girls face don't come from any particularly vindictive place - it's ignorance more than anything else. Its unequal representation, its teenage boys with hormones suddenly having to share their space with girls.

Marchetta manages to use Sebastian's to highlight a number of issues, without ever being too heavy handed.

And let's talk about the boys as well! Namely - Jimmy and Thomas. Both of them are introduced as little more than delinquents. But - like Frankie - they seem to be concealing their true selves more than anything else. Seeing the pair of them gravitate towards our lovely ladies was really rewarding.


The romance is great BECAUSE it's not the be all, end all in the book. It develops nice and slowly. It starts with them not really liking each other, but not in an over the top way, but after a few cute moments I was totally on board.

The best thing about the ship was how it was resolved. I know there is another book with these characters, so who knows what happens there, but I loved how it ended here. It was cute, but it was also two teenagers thinking rationally and being emotionally on point? Thank you, Marchetta.


Frankie’s mother is suffering from depression. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to not have depression touch my life, and so I don’t have any experience with it. But as far as I could tell, Marchetta treated the subject with an incredible amount of respect. She managed to make the situation heart breaking in one moment, and then heart-warming in the next. The way Mia’s sickness affected each member of her family, and the way this effect developed over time, felt incredibly authentic to me. The latter moments between Frankie and her dad made me sob. But what was particularly poignant for me was how Mia’s depression is with us from the first page, but so is her presence as an incredible woman. Marchetta never lets us forget how fantastic Mia is, and how much she is the glue that holds her family together. I adore Mia so damn much, and so does the narrative. I think that’s really important.


Saving Francesca does not tackle race (though I didn't spot anything offensive in there) but I really appreciated the Italian of it all. I am intrigued as to how much I enjoyed this aspect of the book because it resonates with my own life, as opposed to it simply being adorable and very well done.
Frankie's Italian roots are ever present, whilst never being a plot point. I really liked that. All the little details were spot on, from the espresso and gelato, to the tutto posto. The overbearing nonna's were almost hysterically perfect, and the importance of family in Italian culture shone through. I particularly loved Frankie's relationship with her brother, Luca.

One thing I would have liked to see a little more of was the group of students that immediately accepted Frankie because she was one of them, somebody with a mixed background. I really liked that whole idea, and the characters we met seemed cool. But it was fairly brief.

TO SUM UP: Saving Francesca does not tackle every issue under the sun, but it is a fantastic read from a feminist perspective. It's two biggest selling points are the importance of friendship between girls, but also the treatment of Mia's depression. Recommended for everyone, tbqh.

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