Melina Marchetta is an Australian young adult author who consistently amazes me with the quality and loveliness of her writing. In a genre crowded with teen narration that underwhelms if not tied to an exciting and overblown plot, Marchetta creates narratives that stand out for their lyrical writing, strongly developed characters and authentic relationships of all kinds. If you are a fan of young adult fiction and you haven’t read Melina Marchetta, you need to check out her backlist. Right now. Here’s a list of what I’ve read so far, starting with my favorite.
Jellicoe Road – (From the publisher) At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor’s the reluctant leader of her school’s underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can’t avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future.
This book is packed with drama and a whole lot of convenient connections between almost every character, but it never feels emotionally manipulative or overdone. The writing is beautiful, the mystery is intriguing and I’ve already reread this book twice since I discovered it early last year. Also, JONAH GRIGGS. He’s one of my top five literary crushes, and he and Taylor form my favorite fictional YA couple.
Saving Francesca – (From the publisher) 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.
In an ostensibly short and simply written novel, Marchetta skillfully characterizes all of Francesca’s relationships – with her friends, her mother, her father, her little brother, her extended family, her crush, other kids at school she’s friendly with but not really friends with. In that way Francesca’s story feels the most genuine and relatable, but it doesn’t have the mystery and whimsy and Jonah Griggs that make Jellicoe Road my Marchetta work of choice. However, major points do go to Saving Francesca for this hilarious reference to my absolute favorite early 90s costume drama:
[Will] kisses me softly and just stares. I get a bit embarrassed because it’s so intense.
“What are you looking at?” I ask.
“Why, I’m looking at you, miss.”
Oh my God. He’s quoting a romantic scene out of The Last of the Mohicans.
I about died when I first read that, it was so perfect.
Looking for Alibrandi – (From the publisher) 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.
The writing in Marchetta’s debut novel isn’t as elegantly crafted as her later works, but Looking for Alibrandi is still a fantastic read. Josie is brilliant and funny and a bit brash, and she learns a whole lot about herself with the help of her constantly bickering mother and grandmother, her recently resurfaced absentee father and her motorcycle-riding boyfriend. This book is wildly funny while still retaining the sincerity and charm that make Marchetta’s young adult writing stand out in a crowded genre.
Up next in my TBR list
The Piper’s Son – The main character and narrator of this book is Thomas Mackee, a secondary character from Saving Francesca. I’m interested to see how Marchetta writes from a boy’s perspective after creating such amazing first person narration in her previous three books centered around teen girls.
The Lumatere Chronicles (Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, Quintana of Charyn) – Marchetta’s first foray into young adult fantasy, and also her first true series. This trilogy concluded last year and has received consistently rave reviews. I can’t wait to check it out while I wait for more information about the Jellicoe Road movie.