I’m turning thirty very soon and I’ve been in a bit of a nostalgic mood and have been rereading some of the books that meant something to me. A lot of them are young adult.
This contains spoilers for Looking for Alibrandi book and film.
In her final year of school, a seventeen-year-old girl Italian Australian meets her father for the first time.
Looking for Alibrandi has a special place in my heart. I read this when I was sixteen and identified strongly with despite being Anglo-Australian and almost twenty years younger than her (book was released in 1992, I was born in 1990). It is considered a classic Australian novel.
Josie’s voice is so strong and authentic. She feels so intensely and wasn’t ashamed of it. She also had a realistic relationship with her mother and grandmother and her friends.
Rereading it being closer in age to Josie’s mother in the book was interesting. Not only did I love hearing the authenticity of Josie’s voice that echoed my own younger self, I also appreciated how well written it is. All the characters feel alive and have their own lives.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Melina Marchetta does characters well. Because this is her debut, her strengths as a writer are there but in a rougher form.
Josie, Christina (Josie’s mum) and Katia (Josie’s Nonna) are just brilliant and how they interact together is realistic of the complex nature of mother/daughter relationships. Watching Josie mature throughout the novel and listen to the stories of the adults around her was amazing to read as an adult and I appreciate a lot of the adults advice more now I’m closer to their age than Josie’s.
Jacob Coote, Josie’s boyfriend was also a great character and I enjoyed the fact that they weren’t together at the end of the book. Teenage relationships are intense, enjoyable to read but as most adults will tell you, they flame out pretty quickly.
John Barton was a character that really reflected mental health issues accurately although I felt like they could have delved into the suicide and how it affected Josie more.
The only complaint I have is that Josie’s friends don’t feel as strong as all the other characters, including her nemesis Poison Ivy. In the movie, they end up deleting one of her friends and I can see why they did it.
Belonging and family are two very strong themes that are addressed well. Josie feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere because she’s too Australian for the Italians and too Italian for the Australians. It’s touched on that she wants to be a successful barrister and make lots of money to show people that’s she’s enough and I still identify with that train of thought so strongly.
The theme of mothers and daughters and absent fathers throughout generations was done with finesse that I’ve seen many an experienced writer struggle with. It was interesting reading as an adult as I really appreciate the sheer writing skill in exploring complex themes authentically within Josie’s voice and point of view.
Looking for Alibrandi is a classic that is still studied in Australian schools and there’s a reason for that. It’s a brilliantly written book with vivid characters, a strong voice and addresses the themes of belonging, culture and family in a way that still speaks to people.
Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting Melina around 2011/2012 and getting her to sign my copy of Looking for Alibrandi. I told her that I really identified with Josie and asked what she’d be doing now. She told me if I’ve read Saving Francesca then Francesca’s mother is roughly what Josie would be like.
About the book:
Looking for Alibrandi was the debut novel of Melina Marchetta, published in 1992. It has won numerous awards including the 1993 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year, 1993 Kids Own Australian Literature Award and shortlisted in 2001 and 1994 Young Australian Best Book Award. It was adapted into a film in 2000.