Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Being the first class of girls in a used-to-be-single sex boys’ school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and not just because it’s a Catholic boys’ school–the kind run by members of a religious order. You would think that the 25-1 ratio of boys to girls would be a good one for the girls, but that doesn’t work if the boys not only aren’t crazy to have the girls there but have no clue what to do with, for, by, or about the girls. Over and above boys’ usual opinions about girls; these have never had interaction with girls at school and aren’t sure how one behaves. It doesn’t help that none of the girls at this school were from Francesca’s old school, which (like St. Sebastians’) consisted largely of kids who’d gone there since their first year of school–all the girls at Saint Stella’s knew each other and had worked out their relationships. Now she must not only deal with a new school, and not a terribly welcoming one, but also one that’s studented by people who’ve already formed all their relationships.

There are no sports teams for girls. There are no parts for girls in the school play. There’s only one bathroom for girls, and even though there’s only thirty in a school of 750 students, that’s not enough. (Male readers: Trust me on this.)

Francesca’s adjustment to a new mostly-boys school is only the surface plot; the underlying problem is Francesca’s mother, who has taken to her bed and seems incapable of rising. A day, a week, a month stretches to a school term and the family struggles to keep together in the psychological absence of the ebullient Mia. Mia would wake the family by singing bouncy songs, give them gung-ho speeches. Now, she remains in bed, too despairing to even bathe. Francesca’s father tries to keep the family together as best he can, but decides to send the kids to live with relatives; fortunately, this doesn’t last long but the mother’s depression, and the debate on how to treat it–let her alone, encourage her to struggle out of it herself, medication, therapy–swirls ever louder.

This is a fairly straightforward teen book, with no genre aspects other than a mild romance; it is simply a book about how a teenaged girl struggles with her adolescence and her mother’s depression; the two, combined with being in the first class which includes girls in what was an all-boy school makes for an emotionally roller-coastered year.It wasn’t a bad book, though as always “I’m not in the target demographic.” is the first disclaimer; perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, the discussion about how to treat (or not) Mia’s depression resonated far more with me than Francesca’s struggles with acclimatizing to the new school, despite having been in a similar position myself when I transferred to a secular girls’ school in eighth grade. Having not read much YA angst grrl books, I’m not sure what to recommend, though Marchetta’s written several other books that might be worth looking into; The Piper’s Son is a sequel to this book, for those not quite ready to give up the plot of this novel.

After that…Lauren Dessen, perhaps? Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss? John Green’s books–Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars?



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