Release Date: October 5, 1992
For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it’s just been her, her mom, and her grandmother. Now it’s her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldn’t be any stricter—but that doesn’t seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into her life.
Caught between the old-world values of her Italian grandmother, the nononsense wisdom of her mom, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josephine is on the ride of her life. This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past—and the year she sets herself free.
Told with unmatched depth and humor, this novel—which swept the pool of Australian literary awards and became a major motion picture—is one to laugh through and cry with, to cherish and remember.
Looking for Alibrandi is my last Marchetta, and just knowing the fact that there’s currently no book of hers I have yet to read is very upsetting, as I have been on a Marchetta binge since the start of this year. In that time (after the first book, really) she has already climbed her way up to the very top of my favorite authors list, and she’s probably never going to disappear from there. It’s funny that I ended my binge with Alibrandi, as it is both Marchetta’s very first novel (this was published in 1992, holy shit) and the one Ellis told me to start with (oops). It’s also interesting because I don’t think I would have appreciated this novel in the same way if I hadn’t already read Marchetta’s other novels. That’s not to say that I’m blinded by my love for her by now, because that’s not it, but there is just something about the simplicity of Marchetta’s writing that might have been lost on me, and I’m very glad I read this book at this time.
Looking for Alibrandi is the story of Josephine Alibrandi, who lives in Australia but comes from an Italian background. Her mother is a single mom, cast out by her parents when she got pregnant as a teenager, and her grandmother is very strict and dismissive of everything Australian, still abiding by the Italian rules. Throughout the story, Josie deals with her final year in high school, her ethnic and cultural background, her father showing up out of the blue and regular things like friends and boys. Even though I don’t think this is Marchetta’s best novel – by far, I still love that it is apparently considered a classic in Australia, mostly because it teaches people not to be dismissive of literature about and meant for teenagers (and teenage girls in particular). The high school drama in this story is never dismissed as “silly teenage behavior” or “something Josie has to grow out of”, which is something I think is very important and very necessary today.
There are more important themes that Alibrandi addresses, and the most important of which is definitely immigration. Even if we don’t focus primarily on Australia, immigration is a topic that is very often ignored or addressed from the side of the people living in the country to which other people migrate. But it is so important, especially in our current society, and I’m so very glad this book talks about it. Josie’s grandmother immigrated from Italy when she was just a girl, married off to an Italian who took her with him to Australia, and through her stories to Josie, we find out exactly how difficult that was – not only for her, but for all Australian immigrants. But the book also talks about Josie, and her struggles of determining her own identity because of her half-Italian background. She is stuck between two cultures, in a country that still very much rejects Italian descendents as being “real” Australians, from a culture that refuses to move forward because that would mean a loss of everything they still remember about their home country. Honestly, this aspect of the novel was absolutely fantastic, and so, so important, and I wish more books addressed this.
Then there is the issue of family and Josie’s search to understand both her grandmother’s and her mother’s histories, and see where she herself fits into the story. My favorite aspect of the novel, by far, was the relationship between Josie and Christina and Katia. Oh, it was definitely a rough one, and there is still so much more to be discussed between them even as the novel is finished, but the relationship between these three is just incredible. All three of them are emotional and loud and they fight as often as they cuddle up next to each other, and I loved every second of it. I also really liked how Josie’s father came into the story, not merely as someone who is back to shake up their lives, or someone who is easily accepted and forgiven, but as someone who, despite his initial refusal, slowly grows to fit inside their family. Still, this book is all about the Alibrandi women, and their stories are phenomenal.
Still, the absolute highlight of this novel for me was Josie Alibrandi herself. She is probably the loudest, most dramatic, most emotional main character I have ever read about (her melodramatics even beat Georgia Nicolson at times, though she is slightly less over the top) and I love her so much it hurts a little. Josie is smart without being obnoxious about it, though she’s definitely aware of it. She’s also very self-centered at times, and she knows it. She is 100% confident in her own personality and dramatic behavior, even though she definitely learns to be a little less egotistical throughout the novel. She grows quite a bit throughout the novel and even though she has trouble with determining her cultural background, she never rejects her own behavior and feelings. I loved that about her. She is also vulnerable and sweet and caring, and just absolutely fabulous and hilarious. I wish my words would do her justice.
Besides the incredibly well-written cultural and familiar aspects, Looking for Alibrandi is also still a story about a teenage girl going through high school. Josie struggles a bit with her friends, who may not all be very nice to her, and potential boyfriends. This book also has some kind of love triangle, but this is one of the few triangles that actually felt realistic to me. Yes, it’s still about two boys liking Josie, but it’s never as dramatic as in most YA novels with this trope. Neither of the boys loudly declare their love for Josie immediately. Rather, it’s this thing where Josie has liked one boy for a very long time, but then another one comes along, and as she grows to like him more, she starts to like the first boy less. It all felt so completely natural, and I love that the romance never once took over from the rest of the story. It was just an aspect of Josie’s life, and sometimes it was her main focus, but it never once made her family and friends less prominent.
All in all, I really loved Looking for Alibrandi. It took me a little while to get invested in it and it’s still not my favorite Marchetta, but it is so important to me all the same. I love this book especially because, like Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son especially, it just felt so natural to me. There is a certain down-to-earthness about Marchetta’s writing, which may seem weird because I am also convinced she is made of magic, but even when her stories are loud and dramatic and intense, they are simple and natural and calm. I know this is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever said in a review, but this is really the only way I know how to describe it. I love Looking for Alibrandi for the not-all-encompassing romance and the very-important friendships and the new family relationship with Michael Andretti. I love it for the Australian setting and the Italian community and the fancy Catholic school. I love it for Katia’s story and Christina’s strength and Josie’s dramatics. I love it for the Alibrandi family.
“I don’t think you deserve my company, but I feel sorry for you, so I’ll say yes.”
“I hope you won’t be boasting.”
“Of course I will.”
“I’ve created a monster.”
“Do you know how frustrating it is? Why can’t these people understand that this is my country as well? Why do I feel like cursing this country as much as I adore it? When will I find the answers, and are there ever going to be answers or change?”
“Like all tomato days we had spaghetti that night. Made by our own hands. A tradition we’ll never let go. A tradition that I probably will never let go of either, simply because like religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you can’t escape it. No matter how far you fun.”
“I prayed and cried that night, harder than I ever had in my life. I prayed that “one day” would come so I could welcome it with open arms. And I cried because I was loved by two of the strongest women I would ever meet in my lifetime.”