Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There's a darkness inside of you

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta     (YA)
                Francesca is having a tough time. Since her all-girls school ends in year 10, she has to start all over at a new school. However, her mother doesn’t want her to start just anywhere. She is one of the pilot project of 30 female students to attend a traditionally all-boys school, St Sebastian’s. All her friends from before have gone off to another school, while she is stuck with the outcasts from St Stella’s. As well, none of the boys like having the  girls at the school, and the school itself has been fairly unwelcoming by choosing to put on Stalag 17 and have no sports teams that the girls can join. On top of all this, Francesca’s mother, usually the loudest one in a room, won’t get out of bed.
                 Just to make things clear, depression doesn’t just affect the individual, although that’s the most noticeable thing. When someone you love is depressed, it can be absolutely devastating.  It sometimes feels like that person has disappeared, and you have no idea if they’ll ever return.  It’s painful for family and friends, and they can feel lost and unsure of how to help or what to do.
Francesca is used to having an incredibly loud and bubbly mom who she fights with constantly, but who is always there in the end.  In fact, her mom was one of her constants, always telling Francesca that she is hiding part of herself from her friends and cheering her on when she was wild and out there.  Now Francesca has to fight for her mom, who barely seems interested in her own life. She has to try to keep her family together, take care of her brother and try not to blame her father for her mother’s illness. On top of that, she’s expected to lobby for the girls at school, get good grades and not cause too much fuss in the classroom.
I love the fact that Francesca is so wrong about her own life. The girls who she thinks are her friends never liked the real her, they only liked her once they’d taken her down a few notches. Instead, at St Sebastian’s, she becomes close friends with girls she never would have talked to before: wild Siobhon, radical feminist Tara, and nerdy accordion player Justine. She also finds that though the boys are sometimes gross, they also have hidden depths  and can be wonderful friends.  It turns out that not everything about a person can be seen at first glance. Fairly obvious, but it’s nice to be reminded.
There’s also the standard love plot, but I did like how it involved a lot of mistakes and horrific embarrassments. Finding out that the boy you kissed has a girlfriend is pretty humiliating. I didn’t really care too much about the love story, but I thought it was necessary for Francesca. I find myself at the point at which I’m starting to believe that love (at least in books) is just a way to help people to distract themselves from the harder times in their lives, which is a worthy goal in itself.
Finally, I loved the fact that depression did not suddenly disappear in time for the climax, or even in time for the end of the book. Life isn’t that easy, though it can and usually does get better. There will be setbacks and delays, and people will need you to be there for them. It's just the way things are, but it's nice to know that in advance.

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