Wednesday, April 28, 2010

YA Through the Decades: 1990s

Looking for Alibrandi
by Melina Marchetta
New York: Orchard Books, 1999.

Josephine Alibrandi knows what it's like to deal with labels. She never felt like she fully fit in, because she was born in Australia but had Italian roots, and has a single mother. Now she's a scholarship student and a senior at a Catholic high school, still struggling to know herself. Josie has to navigate relationships with her mother, her Italian grandmother who seems to find nothing good to say about her daughter, and her father, Michael Andretti, who shows up out of the blue after abandoning her mother eighteen years ago. She wants to break free of everyone's rules and expectations, but does Josie even know what she expects of herself?

Written in an almost-diary format, Josie has a compelling and authentic voice of a seventeen-year-old. Each chapter is written in first-person past tense, but comes across as if the events she relates just happened. It's not quite a diary, however, as there are no dates heading up each chapter, and weeks can go by between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Almost an entire year is covered, as Josie learns about herself, her family, and her dreams. The story covers a lot of ground in terms of her relationships with friends, boys, her father, and her grandmother, but the theme holding the story together is Josie's coming of age and growing to know herself. Realistic teen fiction doesn't always age well, but the only elements that date the story are brief references to Doc Martens and a tape deck. Josie's search for identity certainly continues to have currency and I would still recommend it to today's teens.


Anne Bennett said...

I just finished the YA through the decade challenge and attempted to leave a message at that site but it was a no-go, so I am visiting participants to see how you are doing and share my link of the books I read.

I am a high school librarian in Washington State. where do you work and what level?

I read the book Jellicoe Road by the author you reviewed for the 1990s and it took me FOREVER to get into the book. I eventually liked it but the jury was out for a long time. i don't think most teens have that much patience. if they don't like a book within 10 pages, they are finished. Your thoughts?

-Anne Bennett

Mary said...

Hi Anne,

I work at two public libraries, one in the children's room (generally through grade 8) and one in the adult reference department.

I agree that Jellicoe Road takes awhile to get started. It's one of my favorites, but it's complicated and I think you're right that not a lot of teens would have the patience to wait and see it come together. I wonder if they would be more likely to do so if they were familiar with some of the author's earlier titles?