Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta -Book Review

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Recently, I enjoyed attending a session about writing for young adults featuring Melina Marchetta during the Melbourne Writers Festival (read about it here) and was inspired to read her work. I can’t recall if I had ever read Looking for Alibrandi, but I recall watching the film.

Young Adult work that I have read recently has been action packed drama set in a fictional world such as the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the Tomorrow series by John Marsden.  Looking for Alibrandi (published in 1992) is set in Sydney in the early 90s and follows Josephine Alibrandi as she discovers herself. She is completing a scholarship in Year Twelve at an exclusive Catholic school and feels left out because she is not from the wealthy background of most of the other students. Her family is Italian, and she feels alienated from this community because her mother is unmarried and they have always been the source of gossip. Her father has returned to Sydney, and she does not know how this will affect her – or her mother. Josephine wants to fit in, but is also strong-willed and wants to do things her own way.

There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about this novel. Alibrandi is a fabulous character – flawed, but in a very likable way. However, some things she does I felt were out of character. For example, when she is in trouble with the head of the school and calls her father, who she has only met briefly, to step in for her legally. It didn’t ring true to me as an adult – I felt as though she had other, more logical and easier options. But then, it is not written for an adult, and it is only taking a leap like this that could possibly have propelled the story forward in the right direction. I think some of this could have been resolved by it being a longer book that let things unfold more slowly. For, especially relating to her relationship with John Barton, I felt that I needed more.

The book has been on the syllabus at many schools for a long time, and it is clear why. It is an easy read with engaging characters and feels real. It covers a wide range of issues from sex and STI to multiculturalism and struggling to be part of several different communities.

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