This book was okay. Not great. Not terrible. It's a book about an Australian girl of Italian descent and her difficulties navigating teenager-hood witThis book was okay. Not great. Not terrible. It's a book about an Australian girl of Italian descent and her difficulties navigating teenager-hood with all the baggage of being an "ethnic" girl who falls in love with an "culture-less" Aussie guy. Throw a long-lost dad into to the mix, and you get your story.
My problem with Looking For Alibrandi was that Josie Alibrandi's "voice" was inconsistent. Sometimes, it is the spot-on smart, funny teenager-voice that I expect from great realistic YA! Other times, her voice takes on a narrative quality that was very disingenuous and unauthentic - a kind of after-school-special voice that tells - rather than shows - her character making "revelations," and "learning who she is."
I also really didn't enjoy the "love story," presented here. Jacob Coote was a terrible character, in my opinion. I almost couldn't believe ANYTHING that was coming out of his mouth. I didn't "believe" Josie and Jacob's relationship, from a reader's point of view. Every conversation they had seemed forced to drive home a narrative point or theme, and none of them rang true or genuine. For all the "fighting" that the two of them did, and all the terrible conversations that the two of them had, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Josephine claimed she "loved him." They were literally terrible in every, single scene.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book because I have read some of Melina Marchetta's other work and it is FANTASTIC. And this wasn't. But, you know - this wasn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. And it was her first novel, I think - so I don't hold that against her.
I am glad I read it. I bought a copy of this book, and I will keep it. And I will share it. And, someday, I'd let my daughter read it. And she can laugh at all the times the girls in this book teased their hair and listened to U2 cassettes (it was the beginning of the 90's). And she'll like it, too, I bet. And then she'll move on and read a better book. (Hopefully, one of Marchetta's other books!)
Since this was Marchetta's first novel, I feel like she was writing "what she knew," like they tell you to do in "Writing Your First Novel" class. And I can appreciate that. I feel like Looking For Alibrandi probably has an Italian-Australian niche due to the subject matter. I bet the Aussie girls of Italian heritage loved it. And maybe even some American girls of Italian descent would love it. I didn't love it. But, it had little to do with the heritage-plot and more to do with the voice, characterization, and "love story."
What it comes down to, though, is: there's better books out there with similar themes....more
Overall, I liked this book. I liked that the book was a quick, interesting read - with short chapters, easily accessible language (the author even incOverall, I liked this book. I liked that the book was a quick, interesting read - with short chapters, easily accessible language (the author even includes a glossary of Spanish terms), and a compelling storyline. Even while the book included some harrowing scenes, it was optimistic overall. I really thought that the ending was a beautifully-wrapped-up full circle concerning one of the book's themes (Quinceanera), and that the author did an excellent job bringing her story to such an end.
The author also does an excellent job of navigating a difficult topic (Mexico/US Immigration) with a true mind to shed light on the (horrifying) conditions for the working poor. In my opinion, she did this without fishing for pity or overly politicizing her message! She gives voice to a largely ignored class/group within our society, and observes parts of US urban culture with a new set of eyes - letting the reader peek in to the ways that these oppressed and mainly poor people operate among one another, read about the optimism and the sense of community they build, and see the way they help one another. It honestly had the potential to be really beautiful.
But - at some points, I have to say that I drew back from the story, and found myself analyzing...
Keisha, Jorge, Flora - these are the characters that Nora meets when she gets to the US. I really enjoyed these characters, and felt them nicely fleshed out. I wish I could say the same about Nora (the main character) and Mama (her mother), however. Those two characters, whom we meet early in the book and follow from poverty-stricken Mexico to poverty-stricken Houston, should (as the main characters) be even more intricate than the minor characters mentioned above, and yet - at points in the story, I felt disconnected from both of them.
One of the reasons I may have felt a disconnect from Nora was the notion that I couldn't quite get a feel for her age in terms of her lack of/wealth of experience...when I felt like I should be getting to know more about her (her, as in the type of person she was, her identity), she sometimes came off younger and more naive than I would expect at some points, and older than her fifteen years at others. This is okay, at times - since teenagers often walk that line between innocence and experience - but, other times, I found myself frustrated with her lack of identity. I wondered who would Nora speak for as a character, and what kind of reader Nora would speak to. For me, it is not a question of whether she has anything substantial to say (she does!), just who would find her most relatable and engaging in terms of age group, experience, etc.
Mama, on the other hand - was largely a blank character, often absent. If Nora could have made it to Houston without her, somehow, I think the author almost would have preferred it - because Mama had almost no voice, no character, no...anything. Blank, weak, voiceless, helpless. I found myself perplexed by this choice.
Thankfully, characters like Flora, Keisha, the extended "restaurant-family" and Mr. Mann anchor the book in realism. Moreover, Restrepo's commitment to the neighborhoods of Houston (which I got to explore on her website...Check This Out, It's Totally Worth It!) also give this book its sense of realism.
Finally, let me mention that I received this book from a Goodreads Author after winning a Goodreads Giveaway - and I could not have been more excited about it!...more