(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/25590.html)
Back at the beginning of the month, I devoured and fell in love with Marchetta's Printz Award winning novel Jellicoe Road. I ordered Saving Francesca at the same time, and it took a lot of will-power to not dive into it right away -- I wanted to save my Marchetta titles and make them last. I was also a little wary; I loved Jellicoe Road *so* much that I was scared Saving Francesca wouldn't be able to measure up, even if it was good in its own right.
Well, last weekend I participated in Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon, and I decided to read this because of: a) it's length (it's rather short, clocking in at just over 250 pages) and b) it's YA, which is great read-a-thon material, because even when it's very good, it's not TAXING to read and c) it's Marchetta, and despite my aforementioned fears, I was pretty sure this was going to be a good and engaging novel that would keep my attention. Thankfully, I was right on all accounts and my fears of my not being able to enjoy this book because of my love for Jellicoe were proven to be completely and utterly wrong.
Like Jellicoe Road, Saving Francesca is all about the characters and the MC's coming-of-age, which, really, is super common in contemporary YA. Marchetta does *something* though that makes these characters really come to life. They're far from perfect, but I fell so completely in love with all of them.
What I love too is that everything comes gradually. Francesca isn't friends with the few other girls in her year right off the bat. She's very reticent at first because of her family situation, but she slowly warms up to them, and watching that process is very heart-warming. It kind of reminded me of Jellicoe Road, how Taylor becomes friends with the "enemy" -- watching that unlikely friendship reminded me of Francesca making friends with the other girls, and some of the boys later on. It seriously gave me the warm and fuzzies.
Speaking of boys, I loved how the boys were portrayed in this book. There are no perfect, wish-fulfillment males to be found in this novel. Francesca's love interest is a huge jerk at first, and even when Francesca realizes she has feelings for him, he does something pretty douchey.. without coming off as a GIANT douche. Like REAL people, he's kind of conflicted and because of this, doesn't make the most sound decisions. In the end though, he is very likable and I was rooting for him and Francesca. Oh, I should mention that this couple doesn't necessarily get a "happily-ever-after" ending either, which was a nice change of pace from the norm. As for the other important male characters, namely Tom and Rob, actually acted like BOYS. Tom's a class-clown who makes lewd comments at the girls, and at first, he comes across as really chauvinistic, but as he befriends the girls, he becomes a lovable goofy guy. Rob's a young man who has some family problems and tries to deal with them by doing drugs, but him and Francesca strike an unlikely friendship and he becomes attached to her family, despite them going through a rough patch. I'll say it again: Marchetta can write damn good characters.
Now, despite a lot of the warm and fuzzies that went on while reading this book, it was also really SAD at some parts. Many parts actually. Francesca's mom suffers from depression, and reading about depression, even in fictional stories, always makes me ache a little because I've been suffering from depression since I was about 13-14 (though I wasn't diagnosed until I was 17 -- before that I was written off as suffering from hormones -- anyways, I digress.) It didn't help that along with the angst that Francesca suffers through, she also seems to be experiencing some form of depression. So reading about Francesca's mom not being able to get out of bed, or Francesca herself feeling so incredibly lonely made me tear up quite a bit.
The writing, though not quite as lyrical as Jellicoe Road was still very well done in its brutal honesty of Francesca's first-person POV. She holds very little bad in regards to describing her emotions, and they're equally heart-wrenching (when she's sad) as they are heart-warming (when she's making friends and going through some personal growth stuff) and I loved every minute.
Final Verdict: I loved this book. When I was finished, I was literally hugging the book to my chest and avowing my eternal love for it (much to Jacob [my boyfriend's] confusion). I guess the big question: did I like it as much as Jellicoe Road? The answer would honestly have to be no, but GUYS, it is SO SO CLOSE. Ridiculously close. Marchetta has quickly jumped to being one of my favorite authors EVER and I have made it my mission to read all her published work, and I will be very sad when I do read them all and waiting at the bit for any new stuff she comes out with. Thankfully, there's a sequel/companion novel to this book, titled The Piper's Son that I absolutely have to get my hands on PRONTO. So yeah, I definitely recommend this book: it's equally heart-warming and heart-wrenching and has a cast of characters who act like *actual* teenagers. Yeah, they're flawed, but you grow to love them anyway, despite it.