Publication Date: May 9, 2006
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 243 (Paperback)
A compelling story of romance, family, and friendship with humor and heart, perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Lauren Myracle.
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. Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.
I am very quickly realizing that Melina Marchetta is just on a different level than a lot of authors. She always succeeds in making me feel...and cry...and become all the more devoted to her stories. She's just wow. There's no other way to describe her. She is wow.
I went into this book excited to be blown away, but also slightly skeptical. I struggle reading stories involving depression because it's very important that such things are accurately portrayed since people important to me in my life have struggled with this. Furthermore, the book is short. I'm not a stickler for length, but detail is very important to me, and it's hard to pack a full story into less than 250 pages at times. However, Marchetta had no struggle with this. She found a way to pace the story beautifully, making it addicting and interesting and full despite its short length. But, with that in mind, I do have to say that the style she chose to write this novel in is a bit jumpy. With small chunks of text separating events or times of day, I found myself rereading a few times just because the transition was so quick my mind was not caught up to the present. However, if that's my only complaint about this book, than you know it was mind-blowingly fantastic.
Marchetta is brutally honest in her exploration of depression. She shows the hardships, the struggles, how it hurts the person experiencing it but also those that surround that person. How this disease is contagious to all those who care for the person suffering, and how it is an upwards battle everyday to dig yourself out of the hole it has created, but baby steps can turn into leaps and bounds, and the little things have never meant more. I would read this book alone simply for this. Just thinking about this journey is making me tear up because it was done so well and beautifully, even though it was hard to read at times and, I am sure, experience.
But my other favorite aspect of this book is the characterization. I love stories with unlikely friends and heroes. I wouldn't have pegged the friend group that Francesca is part of by the end of the book, and that's what makes me love them even more because they are absolutely perfect. You have your best girl friend to rely on, and your girls that'll always be there, too, even if they have questionable habits or reputations. There's that boy that makes you smile, and the one that makes you laugh uncontrollably, even the one that your parents think is a terrible influence but is surprisingly deep. There's that guy that's a bit of a pig in the best possible way, and even the one you love. It's just...perfect. And it all happened when a tiny all-boys school in Australia decided to open its doors to female and roughly thirty girls, Francesca included, found themselves battling for their lives in a male-dominated odorous institution with little knowledge of how to properly handle girls that didn't even know how to properly handle themselves. Throw a cast of characters in a complicated school situation and make them all so insanely three-dimensional that I am choosing to avoid names for the pure purpose that this review would be over 10,000 words long, and you know you've got me hooked.
This book also has a bit of a girl-power vibe, though, because of all the issues going on at the school. Led by their accidental fearless leader, Francesca, the girls slowly find a voice in regards to bathrooms, sports, equal representation, and even tampon machines. Their struggles with finding footing in the school is reminiscent of a lot of female inequality today, and watching them power through it was awesome and, at times, beyond entertaining. I loved this aspect of the book because of the humor it provided.
And I love it even more because it introduced us to Will Trombal. Short, stubborn, always pouty, super complicated, often losing-est at rugby, ex-choir boy who has a girlfriend that we all know he secretly does not love Will Trombal. Who is the absolute perfect swoony romantic interest for Francesca, even though the journey to getting there is perhaps one of the most tumultuous I have ever seen. But, with that in mind, it makes it all the more realistic and the hardships they faced getting together made me root for them even more, even if he is, at times, better at expressing his feelings with his tongue instead of his words. The second you meet him, you'll love him and the wicked glint in his eye.
In the end, I am now going to force this book on absolutely everyone. It frustrated me and made me cry and made me mad and made me laugh and made my heart soar because Francesca doesn't live an easy life, so when she was acting out you almost couldn't blame her. For such a short book, Marchetta knows how to tell a powerful story that really packs a punch and will leave you breathless for days to come. I mean, gah, I am still struggling from a bookish hangover. What can I ever possibly read that can even remotely be level to this masterpiece?
Melina Marchetta, you own my sucker-for-a-complicated-romance-and-powerful-story soul.