[ISBC] June 2012: Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta

The “Inner Senshi Book Club” is an online book club where five book lovers of different backgrounds and tastes across the world take turns at selecting and hosting a book each month. Individually, we are (in alphabetical order): Aimee, Angel, Meghan, Samantha L, and Samantha R. Together, we present you a whole range of books, complete with our responses to a rotating list of set questions.

A new book is selected on the 15th of each month, and our thoughts are posted roughly four to five weeks later. We hope you can join us in our reading shenanigans! (The book club derives its name from the five soldiers of love and justice from the Japanese manga and anime series, Sailormoon. We are just as kickass, and if all goes to plan, twice as well-read.)

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For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it’s just been her, her mum, 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 mum, 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.

Can I just state from the get-go that I loved this book? Despite growing up on Aussie YA this is actually my first experience with Marchetta’s work. When I was in high school I read very little YA because I was too busy immersing myself in nineteenth-century literature. However, I have had Marchetta on my must read list since I was about fourteen, which is why I knew I had to pick her first novel as my first choice for our book club. Maybe it’s because I can relate so much to the characters in Aussie YA, but I’ve discovered over the years that I tend to adore Aussie YA above all over others because there is something distinctly different about them, something distinctly… well, Australian for lack of a better word. And I loved loved loved Looking for Alibrandi to pieces. (And yes, I can’t wait to finally be able to pick up the rest of her works now – I had been holding myself back until I read this one before reading any others.)

Josie reminded me so much of myself when I was in Year 12 and working towards my HSC. She is smart and spunky and stubborn, but she also whinges and whines, and fights with both her mother and grandmother, and to start with doesn’t really understand that she has responsibilities. As much as she promises herself at the beginning of the year that she’s going to be better, it can be pretty hard for any seventeen year old to really change (I know it was for me) without making some pretty big mistakes first. And I love that Marchetta lets Josie make those mistakes so that Josie can grow as a person. But even past the main character of Josie, all the other characters are so well developed. Josie’s family may be Italian, and Josie might be attending a private school (neither of which I’m familiar with: my dad’s family is Irish, my mum’s come from the bush, and I attended the local public school) but Marchetta writes her characters so well that I feel like I knew them. I could recognise the characters in different people that I’ve met my whole life.

And then there’s Josie’s relationship with both her mother and her grandmother. Marchetta handles the growth and development of these relationships so well. All three Alibrandi women are strong in their own right, and even stronger when they all finally learn to come together. I love that this book is so much about personal strength, and personal understanding, and that there are so many strong women in it, even past Josie, Christina and Katia. But I think I’ve rambled enough already and I haven’t even gotten to the discussion questions yet so I won’t go on any further (though I easily could).

Looking for Alibrandi is just brilliant. If you haven’t read it, then seriously, go find yourself a copy and read it, right now.

Onto the discussion questions! (There will probably be spoilers ahead, so be warned.)

Samantha L wants you to consider:
How do the structural features (such as narrative mode and genre) shape the meaning of the text? If ineffective, how do you think this could be improved?
I think the biggest structural feature of Looking for Alibrandi was the fact that Marchetta chose to tell the story in first person from Josie’s perspective. And it was such a smart choice. I’ve been trying to think how the book would read if it had been told in third person, but I don’t think it would have been as powerful. By seeing through Josie’s eyes we get to see not only her reactions to other people’s prejudices and assumptions about her as an Italian and Australian, as well as a child born out of wedlock, but we come to understand her own prejudices as well. But the other brilliant thing about being inside Josie’s head is that it never lets us forget that she is only seventeen. Her inner voice can sometimes be very whiny, and sarcastic. And sometimes I think that people forget that that is how seventeen year olds really are. They whine and they moan (oftentimes only in their heads) but then they slowly start to mature and learn to get past it. Which we really get to see with Josie’s inner voice as her final year of school progresses and she really begins to grow up.

I was interested in knowing:
Did the book meet your expectations, or were you disappointed? Why or why not?
Yes and no. I saw the movie years ago, and then I happened to re-watch a few weeks ago before reading the book (even though I had promised myself I wouldn’t do that). So I definitely went in with expectations that the book would be excellent because I love the movie. Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. But I was also expecting things to happen at certain times. Having seen the movie I knew what all the major plot points were, but as it turns out they don’t happen in the same sequence in the book as what happens in the movie. Which was a good thing I guess. It left me wondering the whole time, when will this happen, or when will that happen? It kept me guessing, despite knowing what was going to happen. So certainly no disappointment.

Meghan is wondering:
Do you feel the cover reflected the story well? Why or why not?
I picked up my copy of the book a couple of years ago, and at the time I was only able to find a copy with the movie cover on it. Now, normally I’m not a fan of movie tie-in covers on my books. I much prefer to have the originally designed covers. But for Looking for Alibrandi I actually don’t mind because I feel that the images used really reflects the story and Josie so well. This is a coming-of-age story about accepting yourself, being who you want to be rather than who everyone around you wants you to be, and learning to be happy with who you are. And I think the utter joy that radiates out of Josie in these images on the cover reflects the point that Josie reaches within herself by the end of the novel.

Angel would like you to think about:
Was there a theme that jumped out strongly in the story? Did it fit the development of the characters?
Aside from the obvious themes which I talk about later, there was another theme that really jumped out at me while I was reading, and that was the class divide. Josie might be a scholarship kid but she does attend a private school which affects the way she views the world. While she mocks the rich kids who look down on her, she yearns to be a part of that world. Enter Jacob Coote, captain of Cook High School, the public school. The tension that results between the two, not just because of their cultural backgrounds but also because of their schooling and economic backgrounds, is so well displayed. Maybe this look at the differences of class really jumped out at me because I was a public school kid myself and I can understand where Jacob’s coming from. One of my best friends in real life has been dating a guy for the last five years who went to a private school in the city, and every now and then he’ll come out with a comment that reminds the rest of us that he was a private school kid and makes us want to shake him. So this issue of class fit really well with both Josie and Jacob’s characters, as well as how they eventually develop and grow as characters throughout the novel.

Aimee’s question for you is:
How well does the setting contribute to the story? (Would a different setting have affected the book significantly?)
This book is all about the setting. Certainly, similar stories could be told in any multi-cultural city in the world. But Josie’s story is so wrapped up in Sydney itself that it could only be told there. The descriptions of Sydney are so spot on. So often Sydney gets reduced to just the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. But every time something different was mentioned in the novel, whether it was Josie walking down George Street, or the mentions of Bondi or Leichhardt or the eastern suburbs and the North Shore and Redfern, I wanted to yell, “YES! This is my city.” But the other thing that Marchetta does well, without really saying anything explicit about it, is that she introduces just how much Sydneysiders tend to judge each other and make assumptions about others based on where we live. I’m sure not I could even really explain it without pulling out all the stereotypes but it is something that runs underneath the surface of most of us (in my opinion anyway), and Marchetta injects it so well underneath the surface of the novel.

This month’s host (that would be me) has a bonus question:
Family, culture and identity all play a large role in Looking for Alibrandi. How do you feel Marchetta dealt with these issues?
Marchetta deals with all of these issues so well, and so honestly too, I think. Family, culture and identity are all tied together so tightly in this novel at times, and at others only intersect slightly, but the way Marchetta weaves them all together continually throughout the novel is amazing. And she shows so well how much this is a reflection of Australian society and it always has been. It’s twenty years since Looking for Alibrandi was published but I feel like we haven’t really come very far when it comes to the differences between cultures. We’ve just changed our focus. First it was the Irish (“the micks”) back in the 1800s, then it was the Europeans (“the wogs”) throughout the 1900s, and these days it’s the Asians. Sometimes I wonder if our society will ever truly progress. So yes, I love that Marchetta wrote such a beautiful book about a girl’s struggle with her identity when it came to her family and dealing with both her Italian and Australian culture. But I also love that in doing so Marchetta also highlighted an obvious prejudice (from both sides) that I believe still exists in my society.

Don’t forget to check out what everyone else thought of Looking for Alibrandi
Sammy/Sailor Moon:
Meghan/Sailor Mercury: here.
Angel/Sailor Venus: here.
Aimee/Sailor Jupiter: here.

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Have you read Looking for Alibrandi? If so, let us know what you think or you can even have a go at answering some of our discussion questions yourself. I always love hearing what other people think about Australian YA so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts about Looking for Alibrandi. And don’t forget to check back next month to read our thoughts about Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, which we’re currently reading until August 15th.

Aimee @ Penmanship Smitten || Angel @ Mermaid Vision Books || Meghan @ Coffee and Wizards || Samantha L @ All Things Literary

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6 Comments

  1. This is so cool because everyone has these really interesting different perspectives on the story. I love getting to hear about it from you because I think you connect with the Australian side of it in a way I’m not able to.

    Reply
    • I love that we all have such different perspectives on it, because I think that we’ve all had such interesting and insightful things to say about it. I definitely think that I connect with the Australianess of it in ways that you can’t (and I can’t wait to see what Sammy has to say on this same subject when she gets her post up), but it was for this very reason that I was so excited to see yours and Aimee’s and Angel’s reactions to the book. 😀

      Reply
  2. Ugh, for some reason, reading your review makes me homesick. Cannot wait to be back in Sydney–one more week!!

    (Clearly I’m being super insightful. XD)

    Reply
  1. [ISBC-review] Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta | coffeeandwizards
  2. [Inner Senshi Book Club] Review: Melina Marchetta – Looking for Alibrandi « penmanshipsmitten

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