Monday, August 22, 2011
Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Josephine Alibrandi is 17, lives with her single mother, and must deal with her critical and past-obsessed grandmother. Little throws this opinionated and feisty girl off guard in her female-dominated world, but if anything can cause her to rethink all that she thought she understood about the world, the arrival in her life of a potential love interest, a deeply suffering friend, her long-absent father, and a shocking family secret just might.
At long last, I’ve picked up and finished my favorite author’s debut novel, which also happens to be the last book of hers that I read. It’s fascinating—and quite odd, to tell you the truth—to read her first book last: it’s like peeking at a great author’s first draft. Nevertheless, LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI was an enjoyable, if not spectacular, contemporary read featuring a feisty main character and a discussion of ethnic discrimination in Australia.
The great maturation of Melina Marchetta’s writing style over the past 20 years shows. Much of the character development in LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI takes place in the form of dialogue: Josie’s grandmother, in particular, talks a lot about their family’s history, and Josie is often at odds with her grandmother as to where they stand regarding their position as Italian Australians in Australian society. Sometimes the character development feels choppy, for Josie will be acting like an immature brat one day, and in the next chapter, she will talk about how she feels herself changing as she learns more and more. Um, from where does this growth naturally progress? I scratch my head in confusion.
The best part of LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI is probably Josie. In a genre where all too often female protagonists will be much blander than their authors intended for them to be, Josie is loud-mouthed, mean at times, unafraid to make her thoughts heard. She is very direct with the family members she disagrees with over various issues. Because of Josie’s opinionated point of view, readers are able to be immersed in a discussion over ethnic biases that existed in Australia at the time of this book’s writing, that may still exist today. Josie is unafraid to voice her complaint about how she is treated and thought of differently by her classmates. Sometimes this feels like too much telling and not enough showing, but it’s Melina Marchetta. Which means that even not at her fullest potential, she is still worth reading.
LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI may not have claimed my heart as Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road have, but it’s still, I think, a must-read for Marchetta fans, who will be able to appreciate just how far their beloved author has come.
Cover discussion: I'm... indifferent about this one, I think. Sure, I think the model could be Josie, especially given Josie's propensity to, uh, speak her mind at every opportunity. But I'm not quite sure what the oversaturation is supposed to accomplish.
Knopf / May 9, 2006 (reprint) / Paperback / 320pp. / $8.95