Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alibrandi is a beautiful coming of age story starring Josephine Alibrandi, an Australian girl of Italian descent. Melina Marchetta weaves together a brilliant story of love, heartache, culture and racism that will speak to girls and women of any age.

The Story:Josephine Alibrandi hails from a very traditional, rules-driven Italian family. Her very well-connected grandmother hears everything and anything through the grapevine, and admonished Josephine if she has deviated even slightly from tradition. To make things more difficult, her father left before she was even born, leaving her and her mother estranged from the Italian community for the first few years of her life.

On fitting in: A strict Italian family is not all Josephine has to contend with as she forges her way through a private school dedicated mostly to rich, white Australians. There, she encounters many instances of racism; students call her wargand other hurtful names, prompting her to become confused about where she belongs.

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?

Funnily enough, the second sentence in the above quote demonstrates how myself, and many of my friends, feel about living in Canada. In such a multicultural country, it’s actually quite difficult to feel a sense of culture and belonging. While we are proud to be Canadian (mostly because of our international reputation for being nice), we can’t really define what it means. It’s so easy for teenagers and young adults to relate to Josephine’s experience, because who hasn’t felt like they belong at some point or other in their lives?

But Josephine still feels the tug between assimilation and culture. While spending time harvesting tomatoes with her family, she understands the importance of culture.

A tradition that I probably will never let go of either, simpily because like religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you an’t escape it. No matter how far you run.

On romance and love: And what coming of age story would be complete without a romantic aspect? The beauty of Marchetta’s writing is that she doesn’t sacrifice other parts of her story for the romance. Josephine’s attraction for Jacob seemed organic and unforced. I loved the way their relationship played out and the decisions Josephine made with regards to her beliefs.

“Welcome to the nineties, Josephine. Women don’t have to be virgins anymore.”

“No, you welcome to the nineties, Jacob! Women don’t have to be pushed into things anymore.”

“What is it? A prize or something?” he scoffed.

“No. It’s not a prize and I’m not a prize. But it’s mine. It belongs to me and I can only give it away once and I want to be so sure when it happens, Jacob. I don’t want to say that the first time for me was bad or it didn’t mean a thing or that it was done in my school uniform.”

“But you’re almost eighteen. You’re old enough. Everyone else is doing it.”

“And next year someone is going to sat to someone else, ‘But you’re already sixteen, everyone else is doing it.’ Or one day someone will tell your daughter that she’s only thirteen and everyone else is doing it. I don’t want to do it, Jacob, because everyone else is doing it.”

At this point I wanted to stand up and give Josephine a high five. Not many teenage girls have the guts to stand up to a boy like that when it comes to sex. 

On dealing with hardship: One of the parts that really hit me hard in this story was Josephine’s friend’s suicide. It was actually quite a bit shock to me even though there was a ton of foreshadowing leading up to the event, I wasn’t sure he was going to go through with it. I think it reflects what a lot of kids and young adults are dealing with these days: increased pressure to be something, too many opportunities to count (not that this is a bad thing, just sometimes difficult to come to terms with), the expectation that one has to DO something with his or her life. 

I loved the way Josephine’s father put it: 

“A person doesn’t necessarily have to be happy just because they have social standing and material wealth, Josie.”

This is so true. We can’t assume that just because someone has everything anyone could ever want, they are happy. One doesn’t necessarily logically follow the other. There are many people who have less in life that are happier. This again reminds me so much of life in Canada, North America, and the first world in general. Sure, some people are happy with all that they have, but some people continue to have unrealistic expectations about the material wealth they should obtain, when it’s really close relationships and doing things you love that matter.