Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: Looking for Alibrandi

Looking for Alibrandi
By: Melina Marchetta
Published By: Penguin Books Australia/ Audiobook by Bolinda Digital
Publication Date: October 5th 1992
Page Count: 261
Source: Library - Audiobok
Audience: YA - Contemporary

Looking for Alibrandi is an Australian classic. It was released in my final year of high school, and as it's about a girl in her final year of school, you'd think that I'd have read it before now, but alas it took me 20 odd years to get to it. Having now read, or at least listened to it, I really wish I'd found it as a seventeen year old.

Josephine Alibrandi, Josie to her friends, is caught between two worlds. That of her Italian family, and the world populated by her school friends, or basically anyone who isn't Italian. Josie and her mother live in Sydney and have always been a talking point, because Josie doesn't have a father. Today of course, that's not a big deal in most places, certainly not in inner-suburban Sydney, but in the early 90s, when this book was published, it was still a big deal for many. So when Josie's father suddenly turns up and discovers he has a daughter, things are not going to go smoothly.

Josie is sulky and stroppy at times, basicallly your typical teenager. She makes mistakes, and although she's quick to accuse others of judging or stereotyping her for her Italian background, she inadvertently does the same to others.

I really liked Josie's parents. Christina, who defied her family and her community to raise her daughter on her own, and Michael, who is suddenly presented with an almost-adult daughter and has to figure out what to do with her. Her grandmother starts out as an unsympathetic character, but as we, and Josie, learn more about her story, she becomes perhaps the most sympathetic character of all.

The issues raised in this book are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago - racism, family dynamics, first love, sex, teenage pregnancy and suicide. Today it could be about any community in Australia, whether European, Middle Eastern or Asian. Josie's voice is genuine and engaging, and although she can be difficult to like, she's easy to love. I found myself sobbing through the last few chapters of the book. 

This should be compulsory reading for teenagers, not just in Australia, but all over. Looking for Alibrandi says it's okay to know what you want from life, but it's equally okay to not know. It's okay to choose to have sex, and it's okay to choose not to. You don't have to have all the answers at 17, or even at 35, or 65. What's important is family, friends, and community in whatever shape you find it.

'And what's this about you and your friends driving around Bondi Junction half-dressed last week?'

'Who told you that?'

'Signora Formosa saw you. She said you and your friends almost ran her over. She rang Zia Patrizia's next-door neighborhood and it got back to Nonna.'

Telecom would go broke if it weren't for the Italians.

Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen, illegitimate, and in her final year at a wealthy Catholic school. This is the year her father comes back into her life, the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family's past and the year she sets herself free.

I'll run one day. Run from my life. To be free and think for myself. Not as an Australia and not as an Italian and not as an in between. I'll run to be emancipated.

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