(Review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/30599.html)Why I Read It:
It's Melina Marchetta! Obviously I need to read it. It's her debut title which is widely regarded by fans as her weakest, so I kind of wanted to "get it out of the way" before reading the rest of her back-list.
I don't know if it's because my expectations were already a little lower, but despite this being seen Marchetta's "worst" book, I found myself really enjoying it. Of the three Marchetta titles I've read so far I do think I would consider this my least favourite, but it was still a really enjoyable read and upon finishing the book, I promptly watched the movie adaptation.
If I had to pinpoint why this is my least favorite Marchetta title, I would probably say it's because of Josie. I'm not saying she's an BAD protagonist, but she's the least likable of Marchetta's heroines. Josie is mouthy, rude and has a bit of an attitude problem that kind of makes you want to throttle her at times. But really, can you blame Marchetta for writing that kind of character? Most teenagers are mouthy, rude and have attitude problems, especially with their elders. I think I was more bothered that Josie put these flaws on full display with her grandmother. I would NEVER have the balls to talk to either of my grandmothers to way Josie talks to her, and I understand WHY Josie is so frustrated with her grandmother, but man oh man.
Thankfully though, Josie grows. She grows up a lot over the course of the year that the novel takes place. This can be seen in her interactions with her grandmother as well as her father. Watching Josie learn about her grandmother's past and what she had to survive when immigrating to Australia (which in and of itself was great to read about), as well as her strenuous (to put it lightly) relationship with her husband was touching and heartbreaking and you can SEE how it changes Josie -- we never have to be TOLD. The same can be said about her growing relationship with her father, who was absent for all of her life. Neither of them really want anything to do with each other, yet because of various circumstances they find themselves thrown together again and again and actually find themselves, despite everything, liking each other. I loved watching their relationship change and grow.
And how can I not talk about the romance? This had the potential of turning into a love triangle, what with Josie having a crush before dating Jacob, but it never does. Their friendship felt completely genuine, and you can see the transition from Josie having romantic feelings for him to being very good friend. I was almost as heartbroken as Josie was at his death. And Jacob Coote? He's no Jonah Griggs but he is swoon-worthy, even if he's as flawed as Josie. He also has surprising depth. It's too bad that they didn't last.. I really wanted them to, despite the obvious gap between the two of them. It was nice to see a romance that DIDN'T have a Happily Ever After though, even if it broke my heart a little.
I think I've missed one of the most important things that really characterizes this novel though: it's themes of identity. Watching Josie struggle between her Italian heritage and growing up in Australia is something that's wholly new and original but it was still very compelling. It also never completely over-saturates the story or becomes preachy, which is of course appreciated. It was handled so well and with such tact.
The only little nitpicks I have is that Josie's friends don't have the same depth and development that some of the other minor characters have. One just came off as a real bitch and not like a very good friend at all, and the other two or three (see, I can't even remember how many of them there are) I kept mixing up. I do remember the more chaste one though, and her little romance that was happening on the side. That was cute. But other than that... I don't really remember. I mean, Poison Ivy had more development than they did, and she's supposed to be Josie's nemesis (though I greatly appreciate what transpired between them -- it was some touching stuff.)Final Judgment:
I feel like I should have so much more to say about this book, but not too much else is coming to mind at the moment. Yes, it's my least favourite Marchetta, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, because I enjoyed it a lot. There's some very touching and memorable family dynamics going on in this story (specifically between Josie and her grandmother and Josie and her father) and while Josie is total brat at the beginning of the novel, she shows a lot of growth that felt completely authentic. The romantic love interest was swoon-y and a Bad Boy/Rebel character without being annoying. Any fans of Contemporary YA should read this, and if you enjoy it, I also encourage people to check out the movie adaptation (Marchetta even wrote the screenplay for it) which I also really liked.