Published by Viking Children's Books on March 31st 2003
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mental health
MOST OF MY friends now go to Pius Senior College, but my mother wouldn't allow it because she says the girls there leave with limited options and she didn't bring me up to have limitations placed upon me. If you know my mother, you'll sense there's an irony there, based on the fact that she is the Queen of the Limitation Placers in my life.
Francesca battles her mother, Mia, constantly over what's best for her. All Francesca wants is her old friends and her old school, but instead Mia sends her to St. Sebastian's, an all-boys school that has just opened its doors to girls. Now Francesca's surrounded by hundreds of boys, with only a few other girls for company. All of them weirdos or worse.
Then one day, Mia is too depressed to get out of bed. One day turns into months, and as her family begins to fall apart, Francesca realizes that without her mother's high spirits, she hardly knows who she is. But she doesn't yet realize that she's more like Mia than she thinks. With a little unlikely help from St. Sebastian's, she just might be able to save her family, her friends, and especially herself.
Just ask how I’m feeling, I want to say. Just ask and I may tell you.
But no one does.
Chantal read a YA contemporary? And she liked it?? *shocked face*
Melina Marchetta has become my queen of contemporary. First On the Jellicoe Road and now Saving Francesca. The woman can do no wrong. I still can’t fathom how she managed to make me this in love with characters in less than 250 pages. On the Jellicoe Road has a significantly higher rating on GR compared to Saving Francesca and I can see why. Saving Francesca is more understated, less dramatic and with not as much actually happening. But that’s exactly why I loved it. This book managed to evoke so many emotions in me by just being an organic story of a young girl trying to find herself.
I related to this novel so much and I don’t even really understand why. I’m very different from Francesca, I don’t have any friends like hers, my family dynamics aren’t similar. And yet, there was something about it that made me go “Yes, exactly!” and “That’s exactly how I feel!” numerous times throughout. It takes a special kind of author to pull that off.
Here’s why I don’t usually read YA contemporaries: They usually take place in some town in the US with all the little high school cliques, popularity contests, dumb teachers and rumours ruining people’s lives etc. I can’t read that. It’s so fake to me. I don’t know if going to high-school in the US is actually like that, but it’s certainly nothing like my high school experience. Of course there are always exceptions (see I’ll Give You the Sun or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) but in general I have started to steer clear from the YA contemporary genre. If you feel as I do, worry no further, Saving Francesca is nothing like that.
I can’t believe I 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.
This isn’t the story of beautiful people going on crazy adventures and falling in love with similarly flawless people along the way. It’s a simple story of a girl whose mother doesn’t get out of bed one morning. A story about a girl who is lost, flawed, trying to find her way. Francesca makes mistakes, she isn’t always the nicest person around, but she is so kind at heart. Her narration was perfection: sarcastic, witty, at times melancholy, but most of all, very touching. She is such a believable character and someone you can root for completely. A bit of a smart-ass and so strong-minded, her development was wonderful to watch.
I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I’m sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, “Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.”
I want to be an adjective again. But I’m a noun.
A nothing. A nobody. A no one.
And then there are Francesca’s friends. I think the last time I loved a friend group this much and wanted to be part of it so badly was while reading The Raven Cycle. They are all fleshed-out and realistic, with strong personalities that jump off the page and make you feel like you actually know them, like you could just call them up one evening when you’re feeling down and they’d come over and watch Netflix on the couch with you.
So I ring Justine Kalinsky and I say, “It’s Francesca Spinelli,” and she says, “Francesca, you’ve got to stop using last names. How are you doing?” and I say “I feel like shit”, and I don’t know how it happens, but by eight o’clock that night I’m lying next to her on the couch with Siobhan and Tara and we’re eating junk food and watching a Keanu movie. And I want to stay on that couch for the rest of my life.
With YA always being so focused on romance, this band of misfits was wonderfully refreshing. There is some romance and it is very cute, but it never takes the upper hand and always stays believable.
The family dynamics was another thing I loved about this book. The novel sheds some light on how it is to grow up with a parent who is mentally ill and portrays the struggles the entire family has to go through. It shows the utter powerlessness you as a child or partner or friend or parent have over the situation. Depression doesn’t just affect one family member, it affects everyone around you.
The depression belongs to all of us. I think of the family down the road whose mother was having a baby and they went around the neighborhood saying, “We’re pregnant.” I want to go around the neighborhood saying, “We’re depressed.” If my mum can’t get out of bed in the morning, all of us feel the same. Her silence has become ours, and it’s eating us alive.
And despite all this, the novel somehow manages to never become too heavy or sentimental.
Melina Marchetta’s prose is phenomenal. Her style is beautiful and flows brilliantly and her dialogues are witty and laugh-out-loud funny. Her writing instills in me a sense of familiarity that is hard to come by.
Overall, this is what Saving Francesca is not: dramatic, suspenseful, mind-blowing, new OTP material. But here is what it is.
It is honest.
It is funny.
It is sad.
And it is so moving.
This is the kind of book I want every teenager to read. It is short and sweet but also packs a punch. I recommend it to everyone, even to those who don’t usually read the genre.
And as for me, I feel a little less lonely than before I started the book.
“I just want it to go back to the way it was.”
“It’ll never go back to the way it was, Frankie. But you have to make sure it goes forward.”