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How To Save A Life

Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca is a sympathetic story of the search for identity in the midst of chaos.

How To Save A Life

BOOK REPORT for Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Cover Story: Emma Stone
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Down Under
Bonus Factor: Spotlight on Mental Health
Relationship Status: Rebound

Cover Story: Emma Stone

I prefer to let my imagination illustrate main characters, but this is NOT the worst YA cover by any stretch of the imagination. Plus, this rendition of Francesca is adorbs. (The cartoony cover is fun, too!)

The Deal:

Francesca Spinelli has just switched to a previously all-boys school, St. Sebastian's, and is one of only about 30 girls in a class of 780. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone at the school resents the change, and none of the 29 other girls were Francesca's friends from her old school. Not long after the school year starts, her mom slips into a major depression. Francesca, her little brother, and her dad are left to manage the quotidian challenges of life without the family's main motivator... and just when Francesca could really use some motherly guidance on recognizing true friends and navigating an It's Complicated relationship with a cute prefect.

BFF Charm: Yay


Francesca is going through some serious stuff, but her fun personality manages to shine through, despite her trips to detention and fights with her dad. She doesn’t always make fantastic decisions, but she’s got heart and is capable of letting loose and having fun. She’s also got a great crew that I’d love to hang around, dancing in drama class with Thomas Mackee, putting in my two cents on the Angel/Riley/Spike debate (Spike, obvi), and pretending to be annoyed that Jimmy Hailer follows me home to drink tea with my mom. It’s satisfying watching Frankie figure out how to be brave, and the other characters are heartwarmingly flawed and multi-dimensional.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

With a 1:26 ratio of girls to guys at St. Sebastian's, there could have easily been a love triangle or even a love Star of David, but we've dodged that bullet here. However, there's a definite no-joy-without-sorrow theme to this book, and the sparks between Francesca and Will are not immune to that. On paper, Will should be detestable, but Marchetta somehow lets me not just forgive him, but really never hate him in the first place. In fact, I admire both of these characters for how they deal with their feelings and I was happy with how the book ends.

Talky Talk: Down Under

The dialogue in this book feels tremendously realistic. It felt like I was watching a well-directed movie, where all the actors were invited to give a personal interpretation of how their characters would actually speak. I did have to Urban Dictionary some of the Australian slang in this book, but A) the dialogue was still understandable from the context, so it didn't interrupt the flow, and B) now I know how to say "make out" in other country:

"By the way, is it true that you and Trombal pashed?"
"He was drunk."
"You should go out with wogs."
"He is a wog."
"But not like us."

Bonus Factor: Spotlight on Mental Health

Kudos to Marchetta for not only writing a book about a mood disorder, but for—tiny spoiler—not wrapping it up with a pretty bow at the end. This is not to say she doesn't infuse the story with hope and love and even humor, just that it feels so true to life. Because I think mental illness should be WAY more out in the open than it is now, I'll say that I had a very similar experience to Francesca's, and at least for me, Marchetta nailed the roller coaster of emotions that comes along with having a sick parent:

One day I'd like to understand this thing, this ugly sickness that's been sleeping inside of her like a cancer. I wonder if it's sleeping inside of me. I wonder if it was in her when she was sixteen, or if it appeared much later. Looking at it from a distance makes me hate her for being weak. Up close, I've never loved her so much in my life.

Heartbreaking.

Casting Call:

There were a lot of characters in this relatively short book, so I'll pick just a couple Aussie kiddos for the roles of Frankie & Will:

Emily Browning as Francesca

Brenton Thwaites as Will

Relationship Status: Rebound

Book, I need to apologize. I specifically chose you as a salve for my gnarly The Raven King TEABS, thinking that the all-boys school, multiple characters and solid author could heal my weeping wound of a heart. And that wasn't fair to you. You deserve someone who can appreciate you for what you are: a richly written standalone novel replete with authenticity. I'm sorry. Email me? No, write me long letters.

FTC Full Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my friendly neighborhood library. I received neither money nor Flaming Hot Cheetos for this review. Saving Francesca is available now.

Lacey Nadeau's photo About the Author: It's taken a decade, but Lacey has finally decided she misses the beaches of Southern California where she grew up. (It took only about a minute for her to miss the Mexican food.) However, she's pretty committed to the fun and sun of Denver, CO, where she plays with spreadsheets by day, and drinks boozy slushies with her husband and puppy by night. The puppy just pretends.