#6 “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta

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  1. City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare
  2. Every Word – Ellie Marney
  3. Skinjob – Bruce McCabe
    i.     Bloodlines – Richelle Mead
    ii.   The Golden Lily – Richelle Mead
    iii. The Indigo Spell – Richelle Mead
    iv. The Fiery Heart – Richelle Mead
  4. Silver Shadows – Richelle Mead
  5. Looking For Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
  6. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  7. Run – Gregg Olsen
  8. Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira
  9. Stoner – John Williams
  10. The Wrong Girl – Zoë Foster
  11. A Fatal Tide – Steve Sailah
  12. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  13. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  14. Being Jade – Kate Belle
  15. Martha in the Mirror – Justin Richards
  16. Shining Darkness – Mark Michalowski
  17. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  18. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  19. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  20. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  21. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  22. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  23. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  24. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
  25. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  26. The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M. Harris
  27. Hades – Candice Fox
  28. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  29. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  30. Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth

I first read Looking for Alibrandi when I was about fourteen. Back when stories were just stories and I thought every author I had ever read was a genius. I remember recommending Looking for Alibrandi to all of my friends and my sister, even though my sister was “too cool” for reading at the time. I also remember tracking down everything Marchetta had written by that point in time and devouring it.

I never should have re-read this book.

Now that I’m older, and don’t really fit into the target demographic anymore, I can see so many issues with this story. It actually made me really sad to see. I loved this book. This is such a sad day for me.

When I was younger I never really noticed gaps in logic or anything like that and figured that, because an author was published, that they were much smarter than me. Now, in a post Twilight and Fifty Shades world, we know that authors can be idiots too. As I was re-reading Looking for Alibrandi there were multiple lapses in logic that I just couldn’t get over.

Josephine and her mates

First of all, the time line. This book spans Josephine Alibrandi’s final year of high school, when her and her friends are embarking on the HSC (the Higher School Certificate). For those of you from out-of-state or my international friends, these are the New South Wales final high school exams. They are intense and highly competitive for most people. I was lucky in that my subjects weren’t all the hardcore and scaled relatively well, but many people had to work their arses off all year to manage to get a decent mark. We are told from the beginning of high school that the HSC is the be-all and end-all of our lives. If we screw up the HSC we may’s well throw our futures away. This is categorically untrue and only one of my teachers ever told us that. There are so many ways for someone to reach their dreams, other than the HSC. But I digress.
So, we follow Josephine and her friends all through Year 12, but the timeline makes no sense. On minute we’re somewhere at the beginning of the school year and the next we’re with Josephine on one of her holiday breaks. There are leaps and bounds in time that make absolutely no sense because there is nothing to tie one chapter, or scene in some cases, to another. This problem could have been remedied if the book were laid out like a diary. If we had dates at the beginning of each chapter, instead of “Chapter Eighteen”, maybe this jerky time line would have made more sense. But instead, we have to try and keep up with the stop-and-start nature of the narrative.

Laying this book out as a diary also would have remedied the narration problem. A lot of the time it feels as though Josephine is speaking directly to the reader, but at other points in time she is simply retelling what has happened to her. Then there are the awkward passages of summing up and internal monologues. A diary would explain the constant switching between story telling techniques as well as the constant switching between present and past tense. The voice is good in that it is consistent, but the structure is so all over the place that the voice got lost sometimes.

Now, there were two major twists in this story. I could still remember one of them from the get go, but the other I’d forgotten about. Thing is, as an almost-new reader to this book (almost a decade between re-readings counts as essentially reading a book for the first time, right?) I could see the twists coming a mile off. There were too many clues, too obviously placed for me to be surprised by these “twists”. Which really sucks because one of the twists is supposed to be all emotional and heart-wrenching, because we’re not supposed to see it coming, just like Josephine. But we do. Or at least, I did, and it ruined part of the emotion for me. My emotional response really only came from my own similar experiences.

OK, so this next bit I can’t really talk about without giving away a massive spoiler, so if you have not yet read Looking for Alibrandi skip this next paragraph and I will let you know when it’s safe to come back.

[MASSIVE SPOILER]

Josephine Alibrandi and John Barton.

That heart-wrenching twist I was talking about? One of Josephine’s best friends committed suicide right at the end of the school year. The HSC was a part of John Barton’s decision to kill himself, however small. The pressure of the exams coupled with the pressures of his demanding father plus his own feelings of isolation and many other factors that we as readers don’t get to understand, culminated in Barton’s decision to end his life. It’s horrible and saddening and absolutely gut-wrenching, but it wasn’t foregrounded properly. I mean, we see glaring glimpses into Barton’s state-of-mind so that we know that something is wrong in his life, and that Josephine really should have spent more time trying to talk to him about how he was feeling (I’ll get back to this later), but what I mean is that the HSC really wasn’t talked about. Every once in a while we would get a sentence like “I was getting some last minute studying in” or something along those lines, but really, the HSC wasn’t spoken about at all. And given that the HSC is such a pressurised environment, affecting many of the students, including Josephine, I felt that it should have been spoken about more than throwaway comments about studying and people dropping out because they couldn’t handle the pressure. Especially because of the latter. People not from New South Wales would not understand the intensity of these exams based on this novel.

And the trial HSC wasn’t even mentioned! In some ways, the trials are even more stressful than the real exams because you haven’t had as much time to study! Ah, this really annoyed me. Especially because of my own memories of the HSC. There was a girl in my year who would study during her lunch breaks. This is how important the HSC is.

[MASSIVE SPOILER OVER]

Finally, I want to talk about our “heroine”, Josephine Alibrandi. In so

Josephine, Josie, Jose, Jozzie Alibrandi

many of the books I read, the female heroine is a strong, independent woman capable of caring for others more than herself and doesn’t need rescuing. And they only cry when something truly terrible happens. Josephine Alibrandi is nothing at all like these women. She is selfish, bratty, selfish, weak, selfish, a snob, selfish, and cries all the time. On every other page there is a mention of her crying. Not to mention, the way she treats her mother and the fact that she was so wrapped up in her own little world not to notice that there was something seriously wrong in her friend’s life. Like, I’m not saying Josephine could have stopped what happened to her friend, but she could have alerted someone, taken some time out to speak to him, or something. But no. And then she has the nerve to say that “it came out of nowhere”. I really couldn’t stand Alibrandi. She pissed me off the whole way through this book. I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to live as an Italian teenager born out of wedlock in a fairly prejudiced society, but Josephine just never stopped whinging. Well, not until the very last pages, when she sums up her year. (A pet peeve of mine: summing up in novels. Books are not essays, they don’t need those kind of conclusions!).
Honestly, I kept comparing Alibrandi to Tessa Gray in my head.

Finally, one last thing before I end my rant. I mean, there is so much more I could talk about, but this post has gone on for long enough already. Looking for Alibrandi has been republished so many times with so many different covers, including a movie tie-in cover, that the manuscript should be perfect by now. But no. On pages 319-320, there is a full paragraph that gets repeated word for word. Like, really guys? This book has been in print since 1992, my entire life, and this glaring mistake is still there? Come on, now.

As I said at the beginning of this post: I never should have re-read this book.

★★

PS: This book was made into a movie and it was one of those rare cases where the movie was better than the book. In fact, I think it may be the only case. So here, have a trailer: 

 

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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2 Responses to #6 “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta

  1. bornandread says:

    I absolutely loved this book when I first read it – I think I read it at least 10 times when I was a teenager and it’s one of the few books that I still have my original copy of. It makes me sad that it doesn’t live up to the re-read. I think I’ll take your advice and avoid reading it again, so I can maintain the memory of how good I thought it was.

    • Bec Graham says:

      Please do! I was so sad when I re-read this. I like my childhood the way it was. I don’t need my lame grown-up, BFA graduate mind telling me my favourite books actually suck. That’s a trauma I just don;t need in my life >.<

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