Melina Marchetta’s debut novel Looking for Alibrandi follows Josephine Alibrandi in her final year of high school. In this story of self-discovery, Josephine learns about friends, family, and love in ways that affect her opinions of others and her sense of self.
This is a classic coming-of-age novel, taking place right on the brink of adulthood and covering topics like family, friendship, and finding your place in the world. So much of the novel’s power comes from the drastic changes in Josephine’s opinions and personality. To preserve the beauty of this novel, I’ll be vague about the plot.
One part that stuck out for me was Josephine voicing what it was like being both Italian and Australian. My parents both immigrated from countries in Latin America, so this really resonated with me. Through Josephine, Marchetta really captured the duality of being a second- or third-generation immigrant. I especially recommend this book to anyone whose parents or grandparents immigrated.
Josephine is a unique heroine. She is a complete teenager, prone to melodrama and picking fights. I especially love how malleable she is. She’s mercurial and she changes so much through the book that she feels like a true young adult, still not fully formed. And while I have no doubt that she’s just as strong as Evanjalin or Taylor, she feels very different from Marchetta’s other heroines. This is a character who has always been loved, and knows she is loved, and is so comfortable in her own skin as a result. By this description, she almost sounds like Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s Emma. I haven’t thought enough about that comparison to judge whether it floats, but Emma and Josephine certainly have something in common. They can be frustrating, but they’re fascinating and I love them.
In addition to Josephine’s own characterization, her relationships to others are strengths of this book, and these two aspects feed into each other throughout the novel. So much of your identity as a teenager can be shaped by what people think of you and what your family is like. As Josephine’s relationships with her father and grandmother change, so does her own identity.
Looking for Alibrandi is a classic Marchetta novel, with the sort of vivid characters and incredible emotional depth that remind you why you love to read. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Title: Looking for Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
My rating: ☆☆☆☆½ (4.5 stars)
Recommended for: fans of coming-of-age stories and those who like great character development. And, like I said above, anyone who has dealt with the duality of growing up with two cultural influences.