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Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Publisher: Harlequin (UK) Limited
Format: Paperback 
Rating: 5/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:

For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it's just been her, her mom, and her grandmother. Now it's her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldn't be any stricter—but that doesn't seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into her life. Caught between the old-world values of her Italian grandmother, the no-nonsense wisdom of her mom, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josephine is on the ride of her life. This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family's past—and the year she sets herself free. Told with unmatched depth and humor, this novel—which swept the pool of Australian literary awards and became a major motion picture—is one to laugh through and cry with, to cherish and remember.
This is why I choose to read YA. Coming of age is often used to describe YA stories but this truly is a coming of age story. Looking For Alibrandi is mature yet full of teenage spirit embodied by protagonist Josie who is constantly waiting for her "one day" to happen.

I thought Francesca from Saving Francesca was my favourite Melina Marchetta character but I just adored Josie. So smart, and honest, and open. Yet she was stubborn and quick tempered too. I also loved that she didn't want to grow up too fast and was quite happy walking to the beat of her own drum. I kind of wish I'd read this when I was a teenager because I'm positive I would've identified with Josie. 

However, this book was more about the Alibrandi women than anything else. Cristina, Josie's mother, was always in the background but not terribly vocal. However, as the story unfolds, more of Cristina's layers are peeled away and we are allowed a glimpse into why she is the way she is. Josie's grandmother Katia on the other hand was an absolute tour de force. Her relationship with Josie was really something special, particularly as I don't often see grandparent-granddaughter relationships in YA (if you know of a good one, let me know!).

As for the leading men, I liked that they were not perfect knights in shining armour yet neither were they horrific bad boys. It's always better to explore the grey area, isn't it?

Race relations and being an ethnic minority played a big part in the story. Like any second generation minority, Josie is torn between her culture and heritage and her nationality. There's also a big discussion on interracial relationships and the difficulties that can crop up. It was really enlightening and sensitively handled. One moment stuck out where Josie's frustration shows as she recounts an episode where schoolmates taunted her - one day telling her she's an Aussie, then when she agrees, they turn and call her a "wog". I don't know much about race relations in Australia but from a black British perspective, we've always been told Australia is quite a racist place - Aussie readers, feel free to weigh in. As a result, even though I love Australian YA, Dance Academy, Home and Away, and the idea of surfing, I've never felt the urge to visit. 

Anyway, returning to Looking For Alibrandi, the pressures of being a teenager is another big theme - whether by school, parents, or peers. There's a real twist (although I should've guessed something similar might happen given Melina Marchetta's work on Dance Academy!).

Overall, I loved Looking For Alibrandi. Twenty-two years later and it still resonates. This is the kind of book I would definitely put into the hands of the young people I know. 

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