Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta

Facts must be faced. I read like a girl. I got home yesterday, after eight 16 hour days of work, which is standard, tired out of my brain, had a shower, a drink, answered the easier emails, picked up a comfort read from the shelf where it had been sitting for the last couple of years, plunged right in, watched a bit of footy, the wrong side was winning, went to bed, read on until the book was finished.

The book? Saving Francesca (2003), as of course you can see, very well written feel-good fiction for teenage girls. And aged truck drivers. Well, aged truck drivers who also read Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables.

Which reminds me, Theresa Smith, in comments on a Whispering Gums post, has set me the task of reading up on Georgette Heyer’s old fashioned rightwingedness and particularly her overt anti-semitism, which I will do, though I must say I am surprised. Is it just the equating of money lending and Jewishness – and I say ‘just’ because that is unavoidable in much older fiction – or is there more? To which I have been oblivious. We will see.

Melina Marchetta (1965- ) was a history/language teacher in a Sydney boys school but is now a full time writer, no doubt following the success of her first book (and movie) Looking for Alibrandi (1992). Saving Francesca was her second and she has since written four or five others including The Piper’s Son (2010) which is apparently based around one of the boys in Saving Francesca.

I read Looking for Alibrandi some years ago, saw the movie on TV, enjoyed them both, was happy to pick up Saving Francesca when I saw it second-hand, to save for a rainy day.

Francesca is 16, starting Year 11 in the first cohort of girls in an inner-Sydney Catholic boys high school. She, Tara, Siobhan, and Justine, all ‘outsiders’, are the only girls from her old school and all her friendship group have gone on to a different school.

This morning my mother didn’t get out of bed.

Opening line

Mother, Mia is a livewire, a feminist, a university lecturer. Robert, husband, father, is laid-back, a builder. They were childhood sweethearts, and lovers it turns out, married young. It’s the sort of family where Francesca and her younger brother lie on their parents’ bed, talking to their mother late into the night while Robert sleeps and snores; where it is unremarkable, a bit gross maybe, to see each other naked.

So Mia not getting out of bed is a big deal, and it goes on for most of Francesca’s Year 11. A year of working out who your friends are – you might think there would be a ‘villain’ amongst the boys, but there’s not. They are just as awkward as the girls. And it slowly becomes apparent that the awkwardest of them have their virtues, hidden behind boy-grossness of course.

I miss … Mia. I want her to say, “Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.”
I want to be an adjective again.
But I’m a noun.
A nothing. A nobody. A no one.

Slowly, Francesca becomes aware that she and the other outsider girls have formed a friendship group, is surprised again, later in the year, to find that their group includes boys. It’s very well done.

Meanwhile, Mia’s depression is not being named, not being discussed, not being treated. Robert monopolizes Mia, willing her to snap out of it, bewildered when she doesn’t, refusing to discuss her illness with Francesca. But Francesca too is an unreliable narrator here, unaware that her own silence about Mia is making her unwell. As you might expect from a teacher-author, some of the teachers cut Francesca a lot of slack, and she spends days asleep in one teacher’s office. At least that teacher finally gets Francesca to see a counsellor.

Gradually, we see from their reactions – though it is not clear Francesca realizes this – that the other kids are aware of what Francesca is dealing with, and they too cut her some slack.

Only at the end, it comes out that her parents have been keeping a big secret (and I don’t think it’s in character that Mia would). Francesca has a fight with her father …

“You keep her all to yourself. You think you can fix everything by forgetting about it but you just make things worse. It’s all your fault. You’ve kept her sick, because you don’t know how to handle it. Because you’re a weakling. Everyone says you are, and I believe it and Mummy could have done better than you and I don’t know why you don’t fuck off now before you make it worse.”

… runs off, ends up in an outer suburban police station, is picked up by her father, talks to him, sits on her bed talking all night to her friends, the love interest thing is dealt with (I’ve been ignoring it).

It’s fun. Not preachy. Not overwhelmed by ‘issues’. A year in a life with lots of stuff going on, growing up getting done. Inner-western Sydney just lightly pencilled in. A happy-ish, realistic ending. Highly recommended.


Melina Marchetta, Saving Francesca, Penguin, Melbourne, 2003

28 thoughts on “Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta

  1. What a coincidence. I have had this book on my TBR shelves for a decade or more, and just the other day thought I really should put it out on the Lifeline pile as I don’t think I’ll read it. But, how can I resist keeping a book about which this is said “very well written feel-good fiction for teenage girls. And aged truck drivers”. You make me laugh.

    BTW Watch out in the next few days for my Jane Austen blog post on Husbands! (I hope to get it done in the next week, while the discussion is still fresh.)

    I hope you are having a break now for a while. Are you having to isolate again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doing one round trip a fortnight, usually Saturday to Saturday, gives me six days at home, mostly unloading, getting work done on the equipment and reloading, but usually also two or three days off, including Sunday. And still in iso, though Milly comes around and talks to me through the screen door.
      Saving Francesca is firmly YA but nevertheless doesn’t go over the top with relationships. I’d be interested to read a Melina Marchetta that covered the next few years, 17,18 through to mid twenties like say Normal People, though perhaps her style would be too gentle.
      Read it one day when your brain’s tired, then give it away. I might give mine to a granddaughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hope you enjoy your rest.

    I do like Marchetta – she finds the right balance between, as you said, not being ‘preachy’ but allowing her characters to have a transformation/ growth. I think it’s unfortunate that her work gets filed under YA or (worse) ‘women’s fiction’ – she is a terrific writer and deserves a wide audience, whether that be teenage girls or truck drivers πŸ˜‰


    • Thanks, I do enjoy my breaks. How about you, have you been racing about visiting everyone in the 5-20 km range (but still within the city). Mum’s nearest family is in Bendigo so she still has no visitors.
      I think if YA has any meaning then it applies to Saving Francesca. I think it’s a bit light for an ‘adult’ coming of age. But as I said to Sue, I think I would enjoy an adult Marchetta.


    • I understand the attractions of a FREE book on running, but it would be interesting to compare Marchetta with Magrs. The ages here are the same as Exchange and the result of the romance is also, more or less, the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You constantly surprise me with your reading choices. So much variety! One week it’s cowboys, now we’re onto teenage girly fiction. Whatever will be next??

    BTW – the work you’ve done on your blog design is excellent.


    • I read pretty widely because I can (with audiobooks). If I have preferences they are to be on top of Australian literary history – I’m scrambling in the scree halfway up the side of that particular mountain – to read classics; and for novels with good writing and lots of character and relationship development.

      As for the look of my blog, I think that’s an unintended consequence of using the block editor.


      • Every now and then I imagine myself making the same effort with say Canadian Lit that you and Emma and others make with Aus.Lit. – I haven’t even chosen my boots yet!


  4. Had this same plot occurred in the United States, those boys would have tortured the four girls to pieces, and the novel would end in a hard lesson when one of the dies by suicide. I’m glad you liked this one and were able to keep your eyes open long enough to complete it!


    • That’s an interesting thought, that Marchetta was content to let the kids lead ordinary lives and was still able to produce an engaging book – takes you back to Anne of GG doesn’t it.
      It actually bugs me when I get into a book and read way past the time when I should be asleep – I know I’ll be headachy and grumpy all the following day, but sometimes the story just takes over.


      • The other night I finished a novel around midnight, and I just felt like it would be worth it. Then again, I don’t have 16-hour days.

        I saw Australia in the news. Something about COVID blood tests and HIV. I hope everything resolves with little fuss.


      • I’m old I can’t make it to midnight any more, although when I’m over east, working till 10pm Western time means 1 am local time which my body gets a bit confused about.
        Covid and HIV! I’d better look it up. OK, got it. Victorian authorities used single-use tests on multiple travellers in hotel quarantine, potentially transmitting hepatitis and HIV.


  5. Read the story, and enjoyed it. Thanks, Bill. I must have had a deprived school life. I don’t remember nearly as much interaction with the girls as is described in the book, though there was a couple who caught the same bus home as me, and ended up married (and still married after 40 plus years).


    • I can imagine it would be pretty daunting for non-confident girls to attend a Catholic boys school. My own experience in year 12 in a co-ed country high was that it was all about the girls (and sport and drinking) which might be why I’m a truck driver and not an engineer as my parents planned. And even then, it was all about the girls except in the classroom where they barely got a word in. I was happy to leave that school behind and so I can’t tell you who married whom, though I’m friends again now with my girlfriend from that year.


  6. That sounds like the perfect read for when you’re “tired out of your skull”! Those are really long working days, so I’m glad to hear that you’ve got a bit of a break, to catch up on your rest (well, I’m late reading this, maybe you’re done with your rest now)! Coming-of-age stories really appeal to me too. There’s a fun U.S. series right now, that I’m super enjoying, called PEN15. That’s a 1-5 at the end there, in case anyone is reading this who didn’t use to spell with their calculator numbers! The girls’ friendship is so moving and they capture the twinned energy of completely-ridiculous and wholly-vulnerable just to my liking. Tangent, I know, but I can’t think of a recent coming-of-age read to mention!


    • The rest is over. I’m heading to Kal to meet a guy to load a bogger. That’s Kalgoorlie though I think we’re actually going out to one of many ghost towns in the Goldfields, Broad Arrow. And a bogger’s probably an underground excavator. Then I’m off to Melbourne.
      Currently, I’m reading Marchetta’s most recent adult work – review in a couple of weeks. (I’ll check out PEN15 for my granddaughters)


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