Series: Saving Francesca, #1
Released: March 1st, 2003
Rating: 5 stars
Word Rating: Absolutely stunning
Reviewed by: Ellis
Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, a boys' school that's pretends it's coed by giving the girls their own bathroom. Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an 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 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've made an executive decision. Seeing as how I'm more or less in control of my life, I have that power. I think it's time for a change in command, though. I want Melina Marchetta to write my life story, because, while there would undoubtedly be incredibly sad and bleak moments (been there, done that, survived), there would also be so many other times that had me ugly-laughing. As a bonus, I could sleep easy because I'd know I'd end up with the most wonderful love interest. Person. Partner. Whatever.
With Saving Francesca, I feel like she has written part of my life, maybe not exactly in the sense of what has happened to me personally, but more as in the way I would deal with those things if they ever were to happen. Marchetta's books are so quotable and relatable, and just - how do you do it? How do you write such a short book that simultaneously gives you EVERYTHING? This one in particular resonated with me on such a personal level that I can't imagine a world in which I wouldn't give it reread forever status.
Enough about the Gushing One. Let's talk Francesca. Two pages in and I was already in love with this girl. She is a sincere character who tries to put a lot into perspective by being almost casual about it. She can be judgemental and flippant, but often she's cheeky or downright sassy. Francesca has a tendency to snark life, but it's her way of dealing with things. There are times when she still sounds so young and it's adorable. Personally, I love this. She sounds like an authentic teenager but not in the sense that she comes across juvenile. Rather, she is someone who still has some growing up to do, which is completely normal and realistic for teens (and everyone under thirty *coughs*).
There is, however, a flipside to Francesca. While it can't be denied that this book is laugh-out-loud funny, it comes with a dark underbelly, which manifests itself in very bleak moments. The story opens with Francesca's mother, Mia, who can't get out of bed. Francesca doesn't know what the hell is going on and/or what she's expected to do about it. She's in denial that she takes after her mother, partly out of fear. She sees how much Mia's acute depression affects the rest of her family and their day-to-day life in general. It's very hard for her to cope. As a result, she closes herself off emotionally, which doesn't exactly make her popular at her new school.
St. Sebastian's might be the best thing that's happened to Francesca, though. She's very reluctant to go in the beginning. She knows Stella made her complacent, but she loves the security and comfort that environment gave her. She knew her place in her clique of friends, even though those girls are the absolute worst. I loathed them. They only accepted Francesca in their group once they had turned her outspoken and galloping-around-the-playground self into this nice and complacent person they can tolerate. First of all, you don't squash Francesca. You just don't. If that wasn't enough reason for me to side-eye The Twit Collective, they also decided to completely drop Francesca once they started at different schools. They don't care that Frankie's going through a horrible time. That's nice, isn't it?
My hate of the Stella girls is only overshadowed by my love for the St. Sebastian's girls. The moment I read in the blurb that Francesca's fellow ex-Stellas would be an ultra-feminist, the former "Slut of St. Stella's Academy" and an impossible dorky accordion player, I knew it was going to be awesome. I was right. It's made even better by the fact that she meets the male additions to this group, Thomas and Jimmy, in detention. The bus rides, the bantering, the shenanigans, the camping trip antics, they were all a great work-out for my abs (and some of it for my tear ducts, because this is still Marchetta). Then there's Will Trombal, who stands a little apart from this group. In their first few interactions, Francesca and Will are so mean to each other. They are smug and want to best each other and I immediately shipped it. But then he had to make some dick moves I'm not going to elaborate on because I want every one of you to feel as betrayed as I was.
THE PURE BETRAYAL
WILL TROMBAL HOW COULD YOU— Ellis (@trtliterator) February 2, 2014
Don't let this fool you. I loved every minute of it. The friendships are wonderful. The romance is marvellously frustrating. The writing hits right in the feels. Issues are treated with respect and consideration. Francesca seriously is the shiz. And oh, the family portrayals. The relationship between Francesca and her brother made my heart explode, and there wasn't even much of it left at that point. Marchetta shows once again how stellar she is at writing realistic and completely loveable families. I hated seeing Francesca's relationship with her father deteriorate, but I understood her need for someone - anyone - to take control. I understood why she acted out when her father was just as lost as she was. At its core, Saving Francesca might be about Francesca finding herself again, but it's just as much about Francesca finding a way to keep her family together when everything is falling apart.
It's very hard for me to articulate everything this book made me feel. All I'm saying is that I get it. I get wanting to look strong and sassy and funny and flippant and uncaring to the outside world, when in reality you feel so vulnerable that your only focus is on making it through the day. I get the instinct of shutting people out because you don't want to show them how much you're hurting. I get having a good time and almost feeling guilty about it because people you're very close to can't make it out of bed. It's all this, in combination with some Marchetta Magic™, that makes Saving Francesca so incredibly raw, honest, beautiful and sad. And I wouldn't want to have it any other way. The book nor the character.