Top 5 Things We Love About Melina Marchetta August 17, 2011Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
Melina Marchetta became well-known in her native Australia in 1992 for her young adult novel Looking for Alibrandi. In 2009, she won the ALA Michael Printz Award for Young Adult Literature for her 2006 novel On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road). Other novels are Saving Francesca (2003), Finnikin of the Rock (2008) and The Piper’s Son (2010). These Top Five Things cover all her books except Finnikin, which is her only book Ana and I disagree about. So, without further ado, our Top 5 Things We Love About Melina Marchetta:
5. Genre Jumping
Unlike most YA authors, Marchetta doesn’t confine herself to just one genre. Alibrandi, Francesca and Piper’s Son are all realistic fiction, Finnikin is epic fantasy and Jellicoe is a post-modern mash-up of realism and mystery. While we disagree about how adept she is in each genre (see the sentence above about Finnikin), there is no denying that she stretches herself and constantly steps out of her comfort zone as a writer. The only other YA author I can think of who consistently switches genre like this is Philip Pullman.
4. Her Names
No run-of-the-mill Emilys or Maggies for Marchetta’s books. Her characters accurately reflect ethnicity where appropriate (Josephine, Francesca), and are always slightly unusual while still being realistic (Tara, Taylor, Raffaela, Jonah). Unlike some YA authors, she doesn’t seem to be choosing deliberately odd names in order to stand out from the pack. Each name is exactly right for the character.
3. Sense of Place
I hadn’t really thought much about Australia before reading Marchetta’s books. Kangaroos, koalas, a big coral reef somewhere…that’s about all that would go through my mind if someone mentioned the continent. Now, after reading Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son, I can’t wait to get to Sydney and explore its neighborhoods for myself. Marchetta’s characters clearly love the city and she conveys the feeling of a sprawling set of neighborhoods inhabited by close-knit families and ethnic communities.
“My bus line travels along Parramatta Road from the inner city, past the University of Technology, where Mia works, past the University of Sydney, and then into the beginning of the inner west…Sometimes Annandale feels like a small country town, ten minutes from downtown. There’s still a working-class quality to it, but sprinkled with academics, musicians and professionals, it tends not to have a “type,” —Saving Francesca.
“Years ago it’s what they used to do during the week at this time of the night. Come down for a coffee or a quick pasta and glass of wine. They loved it here on weekdays because it belonged to the locals. All the people they wanted in their lives lived within a ten minute radius.” —The Piper’s Son
Marchetta’s books are marked by strong family dynamics and friendships. Conflicts between parents and children, friends and romantic partners re-appear in each of her novels. Each of her main characters discovers or re-discovers, a support network of family or friends by the end of their story. Francesca starts her book by saying “My ideal community? Anywhere but here.” and ends with the declaration “It’s about me and the fact that I’ve felt like crap for so long and not just this year. That’s the weird part. This year has been one of the best years I’ve ever had and I might win the uncoolest-person-of-the-year award by saying this, but if you weren’t my friends, I think I’d just go into some kind of coma.”
By far, the most complicated and powerful relationships are found in Jellicoe Road where the mystery of how Taylor is related to characters in an unfinished novel propels the majority of the book’s action. Throughout the novel, Taylor struggles to connect to her classmates, the people of her town and especially her missing family. She could be speaking for many of us when she says “These people have history and I crave history. I crave someone knowing me so well that they can tell what I’m thinking.”
1. How she uses the concept of a story
Each of Marchetta’s protagonists struggles with their own story. Josephine Alibrandi discovers family secrets that change her relationship with her grandmother and her idea of her family story. Francesca Spinelli has to decide how much of her mother’s wishes she is going to live up to, especially now that her mother has disappeared from her life. Tom Mackee replays scenes from the past in his mind to try and figure out how to bring the various members of his broken family back together. As he says, after realizing that one of his closest friends also experienced a pivotal event from his childhood “Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.” Taylor in Jellicoe retells the story of her life to a boy she sees in her dreams, the story of her friend Hannah’s novel to her classmates at school and the story of her life with her mother to her love, Jonah Griggs. By the end, when missing people have been found and mysteries solved, “…there’s a joy and an abundance of everything, like information and laughter and summer weather and so many stories. My mother urges me to write them down because, “You’re the last of the Markhams, my love.” So I record dates and journeys and personalities and traits and heroes and losers and weaknesses and strengths and I try to capture every one of those people because one day I’ll need what they have to offer.”
Speaking as a reader, I’m so happy Marchetta has shared the stories of these special characters with us, because we are truly lucky to be able to learn what they have to offer.