Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Published by Knopf on March 31st, 2003
Genres: coming of age, contemporary, young adult
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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.
Bekka: You and I together again for another Marchetta novel! I’m so glad I picked this one. I’ve been wanting to read more of her contemporary since we read Jellicoe Road last summer.
Lyn: I am happy that I have two other novels by this author under my belt. It was really hard to stop comparing this one to Jellicoe Road – that one was killer! I liked this one, but I still find Jellicoe superior.
Bekka: I definitely agree. I couldn’t help but compare the two while reading. I have to say though, while I liked Jellicoe better, that doesn’t mean I disliked Francesca. Melina Marchetta has a special way of writing relationships – romantic interests, families, and friendships – that just sucks you in.
Lyn: Yes! Saving Francesca was able to stand on its own feet! I thought it was interesting that the author tackled depression, but in a new way. That was very fascinating and fresh!
Bekka: What I thought was especially interesting was the parallel between Francesca and her mother, Mia. Mia was outwardly showing the symptoms of depression – both the physical and the mental. And everyone around her knew what was going on. But Francesca was *also* suffering from depression, but it was never clearly stated.
Lyn: Yes! I haven’t seen many authors use the angle of a person who tries to fix everyone else as a sufferer of depression. Usually, when you see depressed mothers, they’re moody, sad and sometimes angry. This was a new face and a new symptom to this mental disorder. For once, it was also refreshing to see the teen in the novel suffer as well, just in a different manner. I have seen it where the teen becomes the caretaker, and the genetics is never really addressed. I’m happy to see a strong, realistic battle with depression emerge on the shelves!
Bekka: I do love how realistic Francesca felt as a teen, and how her whole family stepped in and kind of shoved Frankie and her brother aside. That’s definitely how it can go in families. It’s probably even more likely to happen that the teen is treated as just a kid and isn’t privy to all the details the adults are dealing with.
Lyn: Exactly. When depressed people hit their limit and have a meltdown, it is a very scary and confusing time. Other family members become the living dead, no one wants to say the “D” word, and everyone has an opinion on how to fix the person, when in reality, no one really knows. While we are on this topic, I did knock off half a star for the attitude towards medication. So many people try to claim that drugs make depression worse, when, for a lot of ill people, it is a first step towards recovery. I was so tired of everyone snapping, “Mia doesn’t need drugs! She just needs to get over it.” That is one of the WORST things you can do for a depressed person – deny them the medication that they need to help them cope with this illness.
Bekka: The only character I really got the Anti Medicine vibe from was Robert, Francesca’s dad. He was staunchly against medication, but Frankie called him out on it (though briefly.) Most of the rest of the family didn’t even talk about it – and considering quite a lot of them were old Italian people, that felt very realistic, in my experience. So while I was annoyed with Robert, I appreciated Frankie telling him he was wrong. I wish there had been more focus on getting Mia out of the house and into therapy, or *something* instead of just giving her time. Because time and rest and sometimes indulgence can help, there needs to be more than just that.
Lyn: Thinking back, you’re right. It was the dad that was against it. I think I was confusing everyone’s denial over the fact that this woman was depressed with the medication attack. I also kept thinking the same thing about therapy. Did anything think to call a doctor or a medical expert. Hell, didn’t the school try something? They knew what the kids were going through! That made me want to tear my hair out. Most people think that mental illnesses can be cured with either science or love, pushing everyone towards loves. You can accept both at the same time, and I hope someone promotes this in a story regarding depression/anxiety.
Bekka: I think it’s important to remember that we were seeing this all through the eyes of Francesca, who was taken out of her home and everything, so she didn’t see all the conversations being had by the adults – back to the Kids Being Kids thing I was talking about earlier. Mia is also an adult who is used to micromanaging everyone else, so I think it’s possible that she might have even refused suggestions that she see a doctor. So our perspective was limited to what Francesca was seeing – and she was so in the dark about almost all of it.
Lyn: I do like that we see this from Francesca’s POV. I just felt that nothing was being DONE. I suppose that was the whole point of the story. I think I have a lot of frustration over this subject because I watched it happen to a family member. Everyone just tried to sweep it under the rug after a suicide attempt, and I was so angry because no one was trying to resolve it. It was really hard to stay objective with this story.
Bekka: While Francesca’s family was frustrating in their attempts to help Mia, the people who really stepped up and rallied around a character were Francesca’s friends. All of them. I don’t know what it is about Marchetta and her side characters, but I loved each and every one of them, and their outpouring of love for Frankie had me in tears for basically the entire book.
Lyn: The secondary characters really stole the show here. I really appreciate that not all the guys were love interest for the MC, such as Thomas. That really impressed me quite a bit.
Bekka: Yes! Francesca’s relationships with both Thomas and Jimmy felt exactly what it was like to have friendships with people of the opposite gender. A lot of the time, authors like to write in some kind of tension between characters like that, but this time the friendship was uncolored by that nonsense. And I just loved the mutual respect everyone had for one another. Getting there wasn’t easy, but once everyone accepted each other and they fell in together, it was magic.
Lyn: Right? Like, every boy who is nice to the girl is trying to get in her pants. I was screaming with joy when I got to the end, and I saw that Thomas and Jimmy never confessed their love or their passion for Francesca, but simply just wanted to be her friend. I found that so much more satisfying that the romance. The romance was good, and I am so guilty of pitting both of Marchetta’s books together, but JR had a romance plot that cannot be topped, and this one just fell a bit short.
Bekka: I think the difference between the books is the level of love. Where Taylor and Jonah had a history and a lot to bond over, Will and Francesca felt much more grounded in their affection for one another. Not every love story has to be about The One, and that’s what I really liked about this romantic subplot. They had so much in common, they had shared family experience, and who doesn’t love a little hate-to-love with their romance?
Lyn: Here was my major issue: Will had a girlfriend during the party. I just can’t do the entire “going behind someone’s back”. It doesn’t really warm me up to the character. No, not every story has The One. It would be really silly and trite to do that with every story, but the chemistry, as the book progressed, just wasn’t doing it for me.
Bekka: For me, I forgave the party thing because Will doesn’t mess around and he breaks up with his girlfriend without any real drama around it. I think it’s realistic to have some overlap in your relationships as a teenager, but I do agree that I don’t like prolonged cheating (say, Anna and the French Kiss.) I think I might be more forgiving in this case because of my bias toward Marchetta and the way I related to these crazy Italian families coloring my perception of the book toward the positive.
Lyn: I could have let it pass, but Will just keeps stringing her along, with the kissing, and no commitment. He came off as an ass towards the end. That’s just my honest opinion.
Bekka: So do you think you’ll read The Piper’s Son?
Lyn: Actually, I do! I would like to compare her work, and I really enjoy her contemporaries. Her fantasy doesn’t really do it for me, but I have to give her credit for the realistic fiction. Are you, or have you already read it?
Bekka: I put a hold on it as soon as I was finished with Saving Francesca. I’m not really sure I’m ready to watch Thomas suffer, but at the same time, I need to know what happens to these characters.
Lyn: Yes! There is so much more to explore, and I’m going to try to get my hands on it soon.
Bekka: So how do you rate Saving Francesca?
Lyn: I’m going to say 3.5. I really liked it, a lot, but it just didn’t hit the 4 star mark for me. You?
Bekka: I rated it a 5. It delivered in every way I thought it would!
Lyn: I believe next month is Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. Pixie’s first FF pick!!!