Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta


June 15, 2014 by Bernadette ~ The Bumbling Bookworm

Looking for Alibrandi
by Melina Marchetta
Publisher/Year: Puffin/Penguin Australia, 5 October 1992
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Format: Paperback
I’ve had this for so long, at least 15 years, I can’t remember how I got it… I either bought it or it was a gift
Other books from author:
Saving Francesca, On the Jellicoe Road, The Piper’s Son, The Lumatere Chronicles

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Goodreads Synopsis

‘And what’s this about you and your friends driving around Bondi Junction half-dressed last week?’
‘Who told you that?’
‘Signora Formosa saw you. She said you and your friends almost ran her over. She rang Zia Patrizia’s next-door neighborhood and it got back to Nonna.’
Telecom would go broke if it weren’t for the Italians.

Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen, illegitimate, and in her final year at a wealthy Catholic school. This is the year her father comes back into her life, the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past and the year she sets herself free.

I’ll run one day. Run from my life. To be free and think for myself. Not as an Australian and not as an Italian and not as an in between. I’ll run to be emancipated.

Multi-award-winning and hugely popular, Looking for Alibrandi has become a classic of modern YA literature.

What I Thought…

Fair warning: this is one of my absolute favourite books of all time and there will be gushing in this review.  If this scares you, turn away now!

For those of you who have discovered Marchetta’s writing in the last couple of years, you’re very lucky and spoilt for choice with all her books to choose from and read.  When I first discovered Alibrandi, it was the ONLY book by Marchetta at the time and I remember wishing for more to read.  I actually can’t remember the first time I read this book, it was so long ago.  The movie adaptation was released in 2000 and I reckon it was probably shortly before then, but I’ve re-read it so many times that I’ve lost count.  However, last month I read it for the first time in at least eight years.  Why so long, you may ask?  In 2006, my Nonna died suddenly and I found it too hard to read this, because it reminded me too much of her and it hurt too much at the time.  Over time, I’ve been too scared to read it again because I was scared the book would be ruined for me.  I’m so glad that wasn’t the case!

I adore this book, I love it SO much!  Time has not dimmed my appreciation for this book, and for that I am very glad.  It’s a rite of passage, a book that all young people should read.  It deals with family troubles, friendship issues, relationship problems, peer pressure, death, illegitimacy, the works.  There is something in it for everyone, and a lot that can be learnt from this book.  The characters are (almost all) awesome, I espcially love Josie’s mum Christina and her dad Michael, and also Jacob Coote – he was by far my first book boyfriend!  The book focuses on one year in Josie’s life, her last year of high school, and she goes through so much change as we all do during that time.  This book is also realistic, there’s no big happily ever after, just like in real lie.  THis is a common feature of Marchetta’s contemporary novels, and something I love most about her writing.

I’ve always identified with Josie, illegitimacy aside, and I love her as a character.  Much like Josie, I’m Italo-Australian, Catholic, didn’t quite fit in when I was growing up, I’m uber close with my mum and I also aspired to be a lawyer.  She’s not perfect; she’s real and I love that.  There’s an incident where Josie is called a wog by a schoolmate and that resonated so much with me because of the times it happened to me.  I went to a school where most of the students had an Italian background, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t discrimination.  For those of you who don’t know what a wog is, it’s a derogatory racial slur against meditteranean Australians, mainly Italians and Greeks.  It’s been used since the 1960s, and I remember my parents telling me stories about being called wogs for bringing their olives, cheese and salami for lunch to school – and now it’s trendy!  In the ’80s and ’90s, there was a movement to reclaim the term and it has lost some of it’s sting when used between friends.  In fact, Josie puts it best:

I’m an Italian.  I’m of European descent.  When an Italian or another person of European descent calls me a wog it’s done in good warm humour.  When the word “wog” comes out of the mouth of an Australian it’s not done in good humour unless they’re a good friend.

This book is such an accurate portrayal of life as an Italo-Australian, it even has National Wog Day in it!  For those not in the know, that’s the day when families come together and make homemade sauce, usually enough to last the year – it’s messy, but a lot of fun.  Josie’s family, the older Italians, she could just as easily be describing my own family.  The way her Nonna is, her fears and superstitions, she reminds me so much of my Nonna – including her belief that the more you suffer on earth, the greater the reward in heaven.  It’s really hard to explain just how different Italians and Australians are, and I mean absolutely no disrespect but what Italians consider taboo is not necessarily taboo to Australians.  There is a different culture, and Marchetta does a wonderful job protraying that, likely drawing on her own experiences growing up as an Italo-Australian.

No matter how old I am when I read this, 11 or 26, this book owns me.    Alibrandi is a coming of age story, and I certainly came of age over the years as I read it over and over again.  And I’m sure I’ll continue to come of age as I continue to re-read this over the years, because we never stop learning.  I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite quotes to end this review:

I can’t explain it to you.  I can’t even explain it to myself.  We live in the same country, but we’re different.  What’s taboo for Italians isn’t taboo for Australians.  People just talk and if it doesn’t hurt you it hurts your mother or your grandmother or someone you care about.

If anyone comes up and asks me what nationality I am, I’ll look at them and say that I’m an Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins.  I’ll say that with pride, because it’s pride that I feel.

It’s my birthday today. I’m not 17 anymore. The 17 Janis Ian sang about where one learns the truth. But what she failed to mention is that you keep on learning truths after 17 and I want to keep on learning truths till the day I die.

Rating: 5 Stars

What did you think of this book?  Did you enjoy it?


One thought on “Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

  1. […] Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (review) […]

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Hi! I'm Bernadette, a 27 year old lawyer who loves to read (duh!), especially to escape my day job. I love to talk about books but I don't always get the opportunity to do so, hence my blog! I adore YA literature, most genres of Adult Fiction, and I've also been known to pick up a non-fiction book from time to time. I hope you enjoy your visit!

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