The “Inner Senshi Book Club” is an online book club where five book lovers of different backgrounds and tastes across the world take turns at selecting and hosting a book each month. Individually, we are (in alphabetical order): Aimee, Angel, myself (Meghan), Samantha L, and Samantha R. Together, we present you a whole range of books, complete with our responses to a rotating list of set questions. You can find more information on the ISBC at this post.
Samantha R chose this month’s book, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta.
Set in 90s Australia, Looking for Alibrandi is about a young third-generation Australian-Italian girl named Josephine (or Josie to her friends). Josie is a scholarship student at a high-end school who feels as if she doesn’t fit in anywhere. She doesn’t fit in with the Australians who see her as an Italian girl. She doesn’t fit in with the Italians who look down on her because her mother had her out of wedlock and remains single. A coming of age story at it’s very best, Looking for Alibrandi is a classic for a reason.
I had no expectations going into Looking for Alibrandi, and sometimes I think that is the best way to go into a book because it allows you to simply be absorbed into the story and allow it to be revealed to you as the author intended it to be. Sometimes it’s nice to put yourself in the hands of an expert storyteller and just listen to the story unfold.
Looking for Alibrandi feels quite like a story being told to you. Josie Alibrandi’s voice is one of the strongest I’ve had the joy to heard, comparable, I think, to Juliette of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me. Except, Josie is much more relatable than Juliette, but also much less relatable. Contradictory, I know, but let me try to explain. Josie is a seventeen year old growing up in the 90s, and in a way all teenagers grow up facing the same sort of things, the same sort of feelings. I could relate to Josie’s passion and her need for acceptance. However, Josie’s life situation adds an edge that I could not connect with personally, but added flavour to her voice. I will never know what it’s like to grow up in a country where I am a minority, but through Josie’s story I think I’m a little closer to understanding how that feels.
Unfortunately, the strength of Josie’s voice had some drawbacks. There were times where there were jarring jumps in scenes, or at least they were jarring for me. Sometimes I felt there were holes in the narrative, simply because Josie did not care to speak more on a subject or did not notice something that she should have. It was definitely an interesting narrative technique, but it wasn’t one of my favourite things ever.
Under the cut find this month’s discussion questions and spoilers!
Sammy asks: How do the structural features (such as narrative mode and genre) shape the meaning of the text? If ineffective, how do you think this could be improved?
It is currently 10PM at night, and I am writing this after a full shift at work. My brain is doing all kinds of woozy things, so I apologize in advance for how poor all of my responses will be. But especially this one because I’m reading the words “structural features” and my mind is going “WAHHH?”
So, in my review I talked a bit about voice, which was really so strong because a first person narrator was used. This allowed the reader to really see inside Josie’s head, and as this book is really a coming of age story, I think this was a good choice on Marchetta’s part because it allows the focus to be on the characterization more than the plot. It also really emphasized the Australian/Italian aspect of Josie because her language was definitely affected by this. As Josie’s feelings of being in between really shape her as a character, I think showing this in the narrative itself adds another layer to the story.
Sam would like to know: Did the book meet your expectations, or were you disappointed? Why or why not?
I had absolutely no expectations going into this book, so I guess you could say the book exceeded my non-existent expectations. After not really enjoying Mathilda I was slightly fearful that I might have the same problem with other ISBC books, but that was not the case at all. I was quite happy to read this book that I probably otherwise never would have taken the time to read. Melina Marchetta is a brilliant writer, and I think I should check out more of her work.
Aimee is curious about: How well does the setting contribute to the story? (Would a different setting have affected the book significantly?)
This book is definitely all about the setting. I can’t imagine this story taking place somewhere else. Australia seems to not only have the mosaic thing going on, but there’s the undercurrents of racism that aren’t restricted to Australia, obviously, but I dunno. The setting just seems like such a big part of the story. I guess there are other places it could have worked, Canada, for example, but I liked that it was set in Australia. Like…the real Australia. Not the beaches and whereever you find the crocodiles, but like the every day world of Australians. It felt very realistic to me, but then I haven’t been to Australia, so maybe one of the Samantha’s will be able to say more on this…
Meghan would like you to consider: Do you feel the cover reflected the story well? Why or why not?
My cover shows a curly haired girl looking out a window with a cappuccino. The cappucino works because Josie actually does drink a lot of coffee, and aren’t cappucino’s Italian? And the curly hair was accurate. One thing that bothered me about this cover is that the girl isn’t wearing glasses. Josie wears glasses, so where are her glasses?
I do like the colours though. It’s very gold and muted, so it feels like the beginning of a story. That makes no sense…but it’s how I feel…
Angel wonders: Was there a theme that jumped out strongly in the story? Did it fit the development of the characters?
I was really attracted to the theme of family and womanhood. There are three generations of Alibrandi women in this story, and I feel like Josie’s mother and grandmother are just as important to the story and to understanding Josie as Josie herself.
I also, of course, was drawn to the whole feminism thing. Josie is in a world where society is speeding forward and being pulled back as they try to cling to traditions, and being part of an extremely traditional family with the flair for breaking the rules creates this great sort of conflict. There’s a lot of friction between what Josie feels like she should do, what she wants to do, and also what she thinks is the right thing to do. I know the first and third thing sound similar, but believe me they are different. Or maybe that’s the lack of sleep talking. WHO CAN SAY?
This month’s host Sam has a bonus question for you: Family, culture, and identity all play a large role in Looking for Alibrandi. How do you feel Marchetta dealt with these issues?
No, really. Those are like the three main themes of this story, and Marchetta combines them expertly to create a wonderful character and quite enjoyable story.
I really have nothing else to say about that 😄
I will be hosting next month’s book, Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, and the information on that book can be found here. If you’ve read Looking for Alibrandi I would love to hear your thoughts or you could even answer some of the discussion questions yourself. Please feel free to join us in reading Cat’s Eye because everyone should read all the Atwood.