Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta

Marchetta is an Australian writer who is churning out notable, award-winning books right and left. Saving Francesca is an earlier one, and, so far, my favorite. It’s also more tame than some of her others.

Francesca is a junior in high school and has been sent to a new, formerly all-boy, school this year that her much younger brother will also be attending. Her mother has decreed this. Francesca is not impressed.

St. Sebastian’s is full of the usual suspects of a boys’ school; the girls are definitely newcomers on the block. Franscesca finds herself thrown together with three other girls from her previous school; none of them were “friends” the year before although they do have a history together. Throughout the book, Francesca learns what true friendship is, figures out how to be friends with boys, and finds a new community that is much more of a real community than her former, shallow acquaintances provided.

In addition to the school drama unfolding, Francesca’s mother is suffering from acute depression. This happens at the opening of the book, and she doesn’t get out of the bed until near the end. Francesca’s formerly quiet father is now taking charge in the best way he knows how, and Francesca and her brother Luca are learning how to help him.

Marchetta manages to handle some pretty heavy topics (like depression) with candor and humor. This is not a dark book, it does not come across as an “issues” book, and it ends on a hopeful, but realistic note. I really love that both parents play such a prominent role in this book–very unusual in a young adult novel. I particularly like that Francesca’s father is learning to be the leader of the house and is also earning the respect of his family in the process. In addition to this, Francesca and Luca really do love each other, and their mother is not denigrated, either. Three cheers for a book that upholds proper family relations and celebrates what each person brings to the family–and without being preachy in the least!

Things to Note/Discuss

  • There is some mild language and references to sex, drinking, etc.
  • The humor in this book often comes from sarcastic repartee between Francesca and her friends. This is similar to many sit-coms today in the use of “put-downs.” If you don’t like that fodder on TV, this book may not be for you.
  • Discuss what depression is and how it can affect you! Discuss whether the family is doing the right thing for Francesca’s mother and how they could perhaps encourage her differently. Do you think Francesca’s parents should have told her about the events just before her mother’s spiral into depression? How open should parents be with their children?
  • Do you think Francesca’s new friends are true friends? Why or why not? Who is your favorite of her new friends?
  • Depending upon your own family’s situation, there may be many other angles to pull out, not least of which is how your own family is addressing any given “tough” situation.