Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alibrandi
Melina Marchetta
Series: Standalone
Released: October 5th, 1992
Publisher: Knopf Books
Rating: 4 stars
Word Rating: Hilaripain
Reviewed by: Ellis

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For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it's just been her, her mom, 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 mom, 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.

Told with unmatched depth and humor, this novel—which swept the pool of Australian literary awards and became a major motion picture—is one to laugh through and cry with, to cherish and remember.

Whenever the subject of Marchetta's realistic fiction comes up, I keep telling people to start with Looking for Alibrandi. For some it's already too late - geniuses who decided to start with Jellicoe Road (you know who you are) or ultimate geniuses who thought the best way to do this thing was by starting with Saving Francesca (moi) - but there's still hope for the rest of you. The thing is, while Melina Marchetta has yet to write a book I don't like, and I don't think she has it in her, if I'm completely honest, Looking for Alibrandi does not have the emotional pay-off of the later books, at least where I'm concerned. A large part of that has to do with how rushed I thought the ending was, which is my biggest gripe with this novel.

But first, let's go back to the beginning.

Let me preface by saying that I absolutely hate it when a book is described as "the next *insert hugely popular YA book*", "for fans of *insert hugely popular YA book*" or "*insert hugely popular YA book* meets *insert extremely popular YA book*". However, while reading Looking for Alibrandi, I couldn't get the idea out of my head that it reads like a cross pollination between Georgia Nicolson and Gilmore Girls, sprinkled with some trademark Marchetta humour, of course.  AND PAIN. Oh, and this is a gigantic anachronism because this book was published only a few months after I was born. So in a way, Marchetta's debut is the source of all good things popular culture has to offer. I am not opposed to this theory. Not at all.

See, it's not just that Josie's mother got pregnant when she was only fifteen. It's that the dynamic between Josie, her mother, and her grandmother has that same kind of bickering and bantering energy, albeit with a touch more drama. Josie is no stranger to the more dramatic views on life herself, but she's also sassy, quick-witted, delightfully self-aware and just a very passionate person in general. The clash of these women's personalities leads to many fights, in which they say the most ridiculous and hurtful things they can think of. They're the kind of family that's yelling at each other one moment and hugging it out the next, and often there's isn't even that much difference between the two. It was amazing.

Then there is Katia, Josie's grandmother, who is such a selfish and inappropriate person. In theory, I don't like most things she stands for, but I love her. At first, Josie doesn't like her much either, but part of the story is about them learning to understand each other better. There's a certain mystery subplot tied to this relationship that was more predictable than I would have liked, but overall, there are very strong themes of empowerment, emancipation, and the several ways in which different types of people try to achieve both. Though her debut features much more telling than I'm used to from her other work, Marchetta is, as always, a master in characterisation. 

One way in which this mastery shows is that she has the skill make me completely sympathise with the main character in question. However Josie felt about the people in her life, I felt the same way. You're 100% in her head. Being of Italian descent but living in Australia puts her in a middle position. This situation isn't made any easier by the fact that she was raised by a single mother who was thrown out of the house once her father found out she was pregnant. Josie tries to navigate who she is as an individual person, as well as what her identity is in relation to the people around her. Part of her finding herself is her realising that talk isn't all that. She still cares about what people think of her, but she starts to mind less and less. This realisation and her resulting attitude change happens very gradually, which is as realistic as it gets, considering it's an issue she's struggled with for years. 

Oh, and did I mention this book already gave me a severe case of the giggles on page 2? There was snorting, giggling, smiling, cackling, craughing, and the kind of laughing that sort of reverberates through your entire body without ever producing a sound. It's possible that I'm completely overselling this book, but then again, this is all exactly what happened, though maybe not in that order. Obviously there were feels involved, though the majority of those were Josie/family feels instead of romance and shipping giddiness. (I'm talking about me here.) Josie's father wasn't even aware he had a child, and at first, neither of them wanted anything to do with the other, but they keep running into each other, and before you know it, they too have fallen victim to the bickering and bantering dynamic that is the Alibrandi way. 

One thing I really liked about Josie is that she's still very confused about everything that's happening in her life. Sometimes she just doesn't understands, but she wants to so badly, and the fact that she doesn't frustrates her immensely. I'm sorry, but that's the best way I can describe it. She's a real teenager, and this book is a coming-of-age novel in its purest form. The blurb hints at a love triangle, but it's not that present. It's very clear who Josie wants to be in a relationship with, even though it takes her some time to see it/admit it to herself. Ultimately, however, this is still Josie's story. Her development is manifested in her taking control of her own story and how she can place her relations to other people (daughter, girlfriend, cousin, granddaughter, best friend, etc) and herself  in that configuration.

One instance that really showcases this is the relationship between Josie and Jacob Coote. It's not one of those slow burn thingies you ship all the way through. It's so flawed, but at the same time this gives the opportunity for some real and honest relationship development. That thing I said about yelling at each other one moment and hugging it out the next? Yeah, that, though it maybe concerns a more intimate kind of hugging here. They fight a lot and not in that bickering way that will make you excited because banter. Their fights will piss you off and frustrate you, but that's how real fights go. They're not all cute(sy) collisions that prove how meant to be a certain couple is.

Josie and Jacob have serious communication issues, which is why they clash so often in the first place. Reading this was actually a relief, because this kind of dynamic is completely normal for two hot-headed teenagers who initially got together because they were physically attracted to one another. I mean, Jacob didn't even know her name after he'd already tried to kiss her once. It could be that he was lying, but he's such a sincere character that I honestly doubt it. This is not one of those happy-making relationships, though they do have their moments, but the truth is that I needed this. I did ship them a little, but all the insecurities and painful moments rang very true. It was refreshing.

The one thing I'm not thrilled with is a certain twist that took place in the last forty pages. Without giving away too much here, I can say that there was some slight foreshadowing that didn't make the situation entirely implausible, but it did still feel very out of the blue. Moreover, Josie's reaction towards the entire thing is quite problematic and not as considerate as I would have expected from a Marchetta character. I do think it's somewhat in line with her previous characterisation, but in all honesty, it reflected badly on her. Nevertheless, Looking for Alibrandi was clearly another win on the Marchetta front, so just take my advice and start with this one already. You're welcome.


  1. Incredible review. I recently read and reviewed Alibrandi too and loved it. I've read Saving Francesca as well, but Jelicoe Road, it just wasn't for me. I couldn't get into it at all. With both Alibrandi and Francesca, I loved her portrayal of Italian Australian's, the nonnas blessing themselves, their outdated morals, it was hilarious. I found myself snorting too. My only regret that it took so long for me to start it.

  2. I am interested in this. I kinda hate twists that come out of the blue, but it still looks like a promising read!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

  3. I did take your advice! But before you even gave it. This was my first Melina Marchetta book and I loved it so fiercely and okay I am a bit of a fail because I haven't read her other books but it can only get better from here and omg the relationship between Josie and her dad and the careful navigation. Ugh. I loved this book.

    It's also been years so maybe I am looking at it with nostalgia.

    Still, yay Melina Marchetta review.

  4. hmmm....I'm intrigued I will definitely be adding this one to my TBR list. ~sheri

  5. I must admit - when I first read this book I wasn't the biggest fan (goodness knows why - I can't even remember). So after reading this review I think it's time I went back to it and gave it another try!


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