A Little Wanting Song: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Little Wanting Song by Cath CrowleyCharlie Duskin lives and breathes music. At least, she does when she’s alone or taking lessons. She’ll talk music with people, but playing guitar or singing in front of them is impossible except for her mom or Gran even though she is not entirely without talent. Charlie doesn’t mind so much because music can be enough most of the time–especially during a summer in the country surrounded by old ghosts and locals who want nothing to do with her.

But Charlie also wants more. She wants a friend. She wants someone, maybe Dave Robbie, to look at her the way Luke looks at Rose Butler. She wants her dad to notice her. She wants to show everyone she’s not entirely unspectacular. Especially Rose Butler.

Rose lives next door to Charlie’s grandfather. She watches cars drive through town on the freeway and tries to keep her reckless boyfriend out of trouble. She’s mad about science. And she wants out of her nowhere town so much that it hurts.

After winning a scholarship to a school in the city, Rose might finally have her way out. If she can convince her parents to let her go. If she can convince her parents she has a responsible friend to stay with in the city. If she can befriend Charlie Duskin and convince her to take her back to the city. It’s brutal, but brutal’s what it is.

Charlie and Rose have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for in A Little Wanting Song (2010*) by Cath Crowley.

Find it on Bookshop.

This book was so amazing.

Told in alternating voices, Crowley has created two strikingly unique narrators with completely individual voices and a stunning story with humor and wit. As Charlie and Rose tell the story of  their summer the narratives overlap and intertwine coming together to create a story about friendship and longing and ultimately about optimism as they both realize the world is theirs for the taking.

Written with a lyrical style and interspersed with lyrics from Charlie’s songs, A Little Wanting Song is a fast read but its prose and story will linger with readers for much longer. Truly, this book will not disappoint. Highly recommended.

*2010 is the date of the first publication of this book in the United  States. This book was originally published in 2005 in Australia under the title Chasing Charlie Duskin. I haven’t seen the Australian book but from the cover images and the actual text I’m comfortable saying this is one of those moments where the American repackaging was really spot on. The book’s American cover and design capture the essence of the book in a way book design usually doesn’t. The title, I think, is also much more appropriate for all of the characters and the story itself. The original title works, but A Little Wanting Song fits.

Possible Pairings: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, , King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, After the Kiss by Terra McVoy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Love, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Harmonium by Vanessa Carlton, Wreck of the Day by Anna Nalick

Exclusive Bonus Content: I know I’ve been harping on book design a lot lately but this one also has a really cool design. The cover has flowers and scroll work as well as paint splatters. Inside the book the narration is split between Charlie and Rose. Charlie’s segments (and her songs) are denoted with the the flowers and scroll work while Rose’s have the paint splatters. The spine also has the scrolls and flowers when you remove the dust jacket. Anyway it’s all really well put together.

Jellicoe Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaMelina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road* (2008**) won the 2009 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Find it on Bookshop.

Jellicoe Road is not a novel with one protagonist. Rather, it is one with many. The story starts on the Jellicoe Road with a tragic accident that will have far reaching repercussions for each character in the novel. Then, abruptly, the story starts again twenty-two years later at the Jellicoe School–the boarding school located farther down the same road–when Taylor Markham is chosen to lead the school’s faction in a secret territory war that has spanned a generation between the school boarders, the Townies, and the Cadets.

The Jellicoe School is the only real home Taylor has ever known. She has been at the school since she was eleven, when her mother abandoned her on Jellicoe Road and Hannah drove by to pick Taylor up and take her to the school. Now seventeen, Taylor is in many ways still a young girl afraid of being abandoned by those she loves. Which is why, at the start of the story, Taylor balks at the authority thrust upon her and the relationships it will necessitate. Leading the Jellicoe School through the territory wars is bad enough, but being in charge of an entire dorm of students seems truly unbearable. Taylor’s resolve to live a life apart is tested, and in many ways broken, with the efforts of well-meaning friends and the appearance of Jonah Griggs–the one person Taylor never expected to see, or need, ever again.

As the territory wars escalate, Taylor’s life is thrown into disarray with the sudden disappearance of Hannah–the only adult Taylor would come close to calling family. With Hannah gone, Taylor begins reading Hannah’s unfinished novel for lack of anything else to cling to. Marchetta weaves Taylor’s story and the events of Hannah’s novel and even the histories of other characters together to create one haunting narrative where, the more Taylor reads, the more it feels like she is looking not at fictitious characters but at people she has known her entire life.

While trying to understand Hannah’s sudden absence, Taylor also starts to understand herself. Eventually she realizes that living life at a distance offers no protection from abandonment and provides even fewer options to heal scars from past betrayals.

The novel starts with rapid fire narration as Taylor throws out events and names at the reader without any frame of reference. Later in the story the importance of the Cadet, the Hermit, and the Brigadier becomes painfully obvious. But in the first pages the narrative comes closer to painfully confusing and unwieldy. By the end of my reading I had a marker at almost every page to indicated important points and favorite passages. However, if you can roll with the uncertainty, you will be rewarded. At a little over four hundred pages, Marchetta still creates a page-turner that moves quickly and weaves together every single narrative thread by the final page.

Because Taylor is not forthcoming with explanations, the novel reads like a mystery (fitting since my two Printz Award predictions were also mysteries of sorts). However a good portion of the story is also simply about friendship and love. Taylor expects neither from her time on the Jellicoe Road even though they might be exactly what she was supposed to find there all along. Marchetta blends moments of humor and gravitas in her unique prose style to create another really great read.

* Jellicoe Road was actually originally published, I assume in Marchetta’s native Australia, with the title On the Jellicoe Road. For various reasons, upon finishing the novel, I feel that this title is superior to the American edition’s shortened version.

** The book was originally published, again I assume in Australia, in 2006.

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Looking for Alibrandi: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Looking for Alibrandi (1992) by Melina Marchetta (find it on Bookshop)

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina MarchettaMelina Marchetta is Australian. According to the backflap copy for this book, she lives in Sydney where she teaches English at an all-boys high school. After the 1992 debut of her first novel Marchetta found herself in an interesting position. Looking for Alibrandi won every major literary award for young adult literature in Australia so that Marchetta subsequently had to teach her own book to her students. All told, not a bad problem to have.

Ten years later Saving Francesca came out and also garnered a lot of praise and awards (as well as regularly being in my Top Five). In short, Melina Marchetta is a pretty big deal. I enjoy her books because they feel like her characters are living lives that I might have had were things different.

Apparently, and I’m embarassed to say I only found this out yesterday, Looking for Alibrandi was also adapted into a movie in Australia in 2000 with Marchetta writing the screenplay. I wish I could find the DVD.

Set in Australia, this novel deals with a sub-community that I didn’t even know Australia had: Italians. Narrator, Josie, comes from an Italian family that immigrated to Australia. At a Catholic school she doesn’t like, surrounded by people who don’t understand the Italian part of her culture, seventeen-year-old Josie feels adrift.

Josie has a lot of women in her life. She lives with her mother and (much to her frustration) spends afternoons with her grandmother until her mom can pick her up. Josie’s father isn’t a part of the picture. He never has been. And what I like about this novel, is that it isn’t a big deal–it’s just life. No complex explanation, no pang of longing for the father she never met, he’s just no around.

Or is he?

Things get more complicated for Josie and her mom when Josie’s long-absent father suddenly reappears. After living without him for so long, Josie isn’t sure he’s worth her time now. In this thread of the novel, Marchetta does an excellent job exploring how Josie can acquaint herself with one of the people she should know better than anyone else.

Amidst this family confusion, Josie finds herself caught between two very different young men. Josie has always been attracted to John Barton, and with good reason. His life seems to have been handed to him on a silver platter. From a rich family, bound for law school, and good-looking, John seems to have everything going for him. Still, as John finally notices Josie and open up to her, Josie is shocked to find that John isn’t nearly as content as she would have guessed.

Jacob Coote, on the other hand, is completely comfortable in his own skin. From a working class family, Jacob is confident about his own bright future (and his ability to get there by sheer force of will). Drawn to Jacob’s radical ideas and striking personality, it’s hard to tell if Josie and Jacob are perfect for each other or too similar to ever really last.

Looking for Alibrandi is a novel with many facets and many plots. All of the characters are dimensional, adding their own stories to the larger narrative of the novel. In addition to an excellent dissection of family relations, Looking for Alibrandi is one of the best novels about the immigrant experience I have ever read. Yes, Josie is probably third generation if not later, and true these characters are immigrants to Australia and not the USA. Still, the novel offers admirable commentary to anyone interested in immigration (and assimilation) in America and elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Looking for Alaska by John Green, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Looking for Alibrandi

Saving Francesca: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Saving Francesca by Melina MarchettaSaving Francesca (2005) is Melina Marchetta’s second novel. Find it on Bookshop.

Marchetta lives in Australia and, as her name might suggest, belongs to the community of Italian immigrants who now call Australia home. Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi was greeted with widespread critical acclaim and is now a standard part of Australian school curricula (meaning that Marchetta, a teacher, has to often teach her own novel to students). I feel that Saving Francesca is even better than Looking for Alibrandi, which might give some idea to how very good I think it is.

This novel, like Looking for Alibrandi, focuses on a family of Australian Italians. Sixteen-year-old Francesca Spinelli has a lot of limitations on her life. The worst might be her forced transfer to St. Sebastian’s, a former boy’s school that’s trying to turn co-ed. As Francesca explains “What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fish bowl or like you don’t exist.” Adding insult to injury, all of Francesca’s friends stayed at her old school, leaving Francesca with Siobhan the “slut of St. Stella’s”, Tara the “fanatic”, and Justine the “loser” as her only companions. Things only get worse when Francesca locks horns with the infuriating Will Trombal and Francesca’s mother, the usually vibrant and free-spirited Mia, refuses to get out of bed as she grapples with a depression that cripples not only Mia but Francesca and the rest of the family as well.

There is so much I want to say about this book. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the cover art for every edition I have seen. I love that Francesca’s voice is so unique and can appeal to just about everyone.

More important than any of that, the story is good. Marchetta tackles the issue of depression in a way that is new and effective. She never gets bogged down in presenting information that doesn’t relate to the story or the characters. At the same time, even though the depression plays a necessarily prevalent role in the novel, the story is about more than that.

While Francesca tries to make sense of her home life being turned inside out, she also starts to make sense of her own identity–something she never bothered to examine too closely at St. Stella’s when it became clear that her friends didn’t care about the “real” Francesca. Being thrown together with the other misfits from St. Stella’s, Francesca begins to find her own voice and her own place in the world. She also slowly begins to make sense of the boys at St. Sebastian’s. One of the best threads in the novel follows the evolving relations between the St. Stella’s transplants and their new, male, classmates.

Marchetta’s prose is vivid and to the point. The novel stays close to its main focus, Francesca and her family, to create a tight narrative that expertly traces the evolution of the characters in the novel. The story, narrative, and characters come together here to create one of those rare, arresting novels, that will grab readers attention from the first page through the last and still remain a satisfying read upon future perusals. Saving Francesca comes ten years after Looking for Alibrandi and, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Marchetta spent the intervening years honing her craft to a rarely seen level of mastery.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin