Cannonball Read IV: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
"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."
This book came to my from my BFF, who is a school librarian. She reads a lot of YA lit for her job and passes some of the better stuff off to me. For example, she introduced me to the greatness that is The Hunger Games (I reviewed them last year, for those new to this blog that I think no one is reading anyway!). So when I saw this in the stack of books she was trying to find a new home for, I grabbed it up. I'm glad that I did.
Saving Francesca is the story of a teenage girl in Australia. It takes place during two terms of her Year 11, which includes attending a new school and dealing with her mother's depression (this is not a spoiler - it's on the back cover summary). Frankie's new school is only recently integrated, and they haven't done a great job of making the girls feel welcome. In addition, Frankie's group of friends from her old school all moved on to a different school, so she's left with some girls that she doesn't really know and trying to find her way and mostly keep her head down.
One of the most important people in Frankie's life is her mother, Mia, a whirlwind of energy and of being your own person. Frankie has seen this as overbearing in the past, wanting to blend in rather than stand out. But over the course of the book she starts to see the wisdom in the things Mia always told her. Part of this is due to the sudden lack of Mia in her life. One morning she simply does not get out of bed, and she stays that way for quite some time. As Frankie and her family deal with her mother's problem (or, for much of the book, DON'T deal with it), Frankie starts letting herself become the woman she's meant to be. She makes friends she didn't expect, find a crush she doesn't want, and starts to really find herself as a person, not just part of a crowd.
This is a really wonderful book on a lot of levels. First, I love the message it sends to young women. Frankie is an incredibly normal girl - she wants to blend in, she defines herself by what her friends say, she fights with her mom, she thinks the boys in her school are ridiculous. But circumstances force her to really develop her own personality independent of those things, and to find the people who let her be who she really is. Her journey felt very real. By the end of the book you get the idea that, while there will still be times that she backslides, she's really trying to blaze her own trail.
I also liked the honesty with which they handled Mia's illness. Depression is something I'm intimately familiar with, and I spent a lot of the book wondering what her catalyst was, and what warning signs the family had missed. And they address both, in their own good time. It takes awhile to find out those things, so while I wanted to know immediately, it made sense to not reveal it until Frankie figured it out. And I love that while Mia makes progress, she doesn't end the book healed. That kind of depression doesn't go away, but becomes something you learn to live with (some days better than others). If suddenly it had been a "hey, she's all better now, yay!" ending, I would have been disappointed. There's hope there, but it's obvious that it won't be an easy road.
This book is peppered with delightful characters, and even though you don't get to know them well (the narrator is Frankie, so we're limited to her perspective) you get a real sense of who they are and what they're like. I wanted to hang out with Frankie and her friends, and I love being able to connect that way with characters.
Definitely a book I'd recommend, especially if you love YA lit!
For more of katsings's reviews, check out her blog, Hope Springs Eternal.
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.