Title: Looking for Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I think it would be an understatement to say I loved this book. Although Looking for Alibrandi is by no means my favorite Marchetta novel, it's definitely tied with The Piper's Son for third. (In case you were wondering, Saving Francesca is my favorite followed closely by Jellicoe Road. ) In many ways, I feel as if Looking for Alibrandi is Marchetta's most personal novel - I felt as if I could feel parts of her within it. Although authors pour a part of their soul into every work of fiction they write, Looking for Alibrandi seemed to hit closer to home as it explored issues of race, politics, and acceptance in such a powerful, truthful, and empathetic way. I am constantly surprised by Marchetta's writing style and ability as she manages to rise above even my highest expectations of her. I have never been let down by her work and her debut, Looking for Alibrandi, is no different.
It is Josephine Alibrandi's final year of high school and her life is about to change. For one, Michael Andretti, the father who never acknowledged her these past seventeen years and made her life as an illegitimate daughter hell, reappears in her life, complicating her feelings towards him. Furthermore, Josephine's grandmother makes Jose's life all the more confusing by throwing her in between old-world values and new-world customs. To add to the mess her life is steadily becoming, she seems to be developing feelings for Jacob Coote and regarding long-time crush John Barton as merely a friend. Josephine's last year in high school is filled with ups and down, mistakes and triumphs, and a creeping understanding of what it means to live in the era she lives, the area she lives, and the life she leads.
I love that each and every one of Marchetta's protagonists is different, yet, there is something so achingly familiar about all them which makes them so easy to relate to, empathize with, and love. Josephine Alibrandi is no different. Josephine's voice is unique, witty, and so much fun to read, but it is also deep, thoughtful, and provocative. As Josephine struggles to find a mean between her relationship with her father, her blooming romance with Jacob, and come to an understanding between the two most influential women in her life - her mother and her grandmother - her narration sucks you into her world and keeps you there. Unlike most other protagonists, I found that Josephine's struggles in life transcended that within her home life - they also included tiffs with her friends, teachers, growing up, and responsibility. Every single one of the secondary characters played such an important role in Jose's life and I loved seeing their impact on her growth. Josephine's development through the novel is slow, but it is sure, steadfast, and improving. Josephine is by no means perfect, but hers is a story that everyone, everywhere, can understand and appreciate and I admired how it went beyond the contemporary novels of the norm, tackling issues such as illegitimacy, racial discrimination, and suicide.
Yet, what surprised me the most about this book, was the tale neatly interwoven between it. It may not seem like it, but Looking for Alibrandi is a novel about three generations of Italian women who come to Australia, make mistakes, and repent and learn from them in the changing times. I admired the manner in which Marchetta wrote the complex dynamics between Josephine's mother, her grandmother, and herself. I've grown to regard all three of these women as inspirations for standing tall when the world shunned them, for rising above their status, and for exhibiting a strength usually uncalled for in their time. I cannot be any clearer without giving away precious spoilers for this tale, but this unexpected bond that I found between the pages of this book tore at my heart and soul and I found myself aching for everything these three had faced.
Another thing that surprised me about this book was the romance. In all honesty, I didn't think any fictional character could rival Jonah Griggs, but apparently I was wrong. I cannot choose between Jonah and Jacob Coote, but I love both of them. Jacob and Jose's relationship gets off to a rocky start, but I love the realistic quality it carries throughout the novel. Furthermore, I love the fact that Jacob and Jose bring out the best in each other, that they inspire each other to be better, and that they complement each other so perfectly. Although they both have quick tempers, their arguments are adorable and their make-ups even cuter. Plus, I love Jacob himself - his carefree attitude, his passion for cars, the way he doesn't let what others say affect him and most of all, the way he puts up with Jose on her bad days but argues with her when push comes to shove and solves their problems in a reasonable way. Jacob and Jose's relationship is one of my favorite out of all the Marchetta books and I know I'll find myself re-reading this novel just for them.
Speaking of relationships, I absolutely adored Josephine's relationship with her father. It made me laugh on more than one occasion and seeing them gradually become closer to one another, understand each other, and care for one another was heart-warming and sweet. Furthermore, I loved that more than simply a story about Josephine, Looking for Alibrandi was in equal parts a story about her father coming to terms with his past, her mother understanding her daughter, her grandmother understanding the consequences of her actions, a family understanding each other, friends staying true to one another, and first loves lasting forever. While Marchetta's other contemporary novels are all tear-jerkers, Looking for Alibrandi was a more bittersweet type of tale, filled in equal parts with happiness and sorrow. I admired its ending most of all for its honesty as not everything quite works out in life. Looking back, I am still astounded that this was Marchetta's debut novel - it is hands down one of the best debuts I've read and it is inspiring to know that Marchetta's exemplary writing skills could be seen even from the very beginning.
Melina Marchetta is one of those few authors who constantly transcends the boundaries of literature during today's day and age and Looking for Alibrandi is a coming of age story that does just that - transcends. It is a novel about race - about immigrating to a new country and struggling to acclimate with their ways of living while holding true to your own customs and beliefs. It is a novel about strength - about standing up for what you believe in and not allowing others' opinions to influence you. It is a novel about forgiveness - about forgiving past mistakes and moving on. It is a novel about growing up - about making mistakes and learning from them. It is a novel about understanding - about understanding what it means to be an adult, a father, a mother, a daughter, a grandmother, a friend. It is a novel about love - about its everlasting warmth. It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.