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, 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.
A new book is selected on the 15th of each month, and our thoughts are posted roughly four to five weeks later. We hope you can join us in our reading shenanigans! (The book club derives its name from the five soldiers of love and justice from the Japanese manga and anime series, Sailormoon. We are just as kickass, and if all goes to plan, twice as well-read.)
Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Australia
Genre: Young Adult
Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen, illegitimate, and in her final year at a wealthy Catholic school. This is the year her father comes back into her life, the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past and the year she sets herself free.
Samantha L wants you to consider:
How relevant do you think this text will be in a century? Which aspects do you think will be valued most?
Considering how quickly the world is shifting these days, I would be very much surprised if Melina Marchetta’s books were still being read in a century. There are so many flash-in-the-pan trends in YA lately that I feel Marchetta’s work is overshadowed and ignored, to the loss of readers everywhere. That said, I absolutely believe in the strength of her prose and the themes of her stories, and I do hope that her grasp of the teenage voice is still considered relevant in 2112.
Samantha R is interested in knowing:
Did the book meet your expectations, or were you disappointed? Why or why not?
For the longest time, I’d connected Marchetta to obviously good literature–think the reaction to John Green’s name or Judy Blume. I’d thought that I’d know from the first page that I was reading something excellent, something worth my time. That wasn’t exactly the case. I remember reading On the Jellicoe Road and almost giving up halfway through the book because it just wasn’t hooking me the way I was used to being hooked by a YA novel. I had a similar experience with Alibrandi, mostly because it started so abruptly that I couldn’t find my footing as easily. Thanks to my Jellicoe experience, however, I was able to get past that initial hesitation and feel comfortable with the new setting and characters that Marchetta was introducing. As far as expectations, I avoided making any, because I find that it ruins my experience of her books.
Meghan is wondering:
Do you feel the cover reflected the story well? Why or why not?
Yes and no. On the one hand, I liked the photographic quality of the cover–it looks a little gritty and raw, reflecting the sensitivity of Josephine and her story. The play of light is also very lovely, almost dividing the cover model in half, and she’s looking towards the light. On the other hand, I don’t think the cover model is as dark as Josephine describes herself to be, and the colours chosen for the cover don’t really mesh well together. The gradient on the title font is particularly jarring, and if I’m not wrong, there are at least three different fonts in use, which is a bit messy.
I would like myself to think about:
Was there a theme that jumped out strongly in the story? Did it fit the development of the characters?
Potential. It was very obvious to me that Looking for Alibrandi was Marchetta’s first novel, and not just because the prose did not yet hold the electric power you find in her later work. Josephine is a firecracker of a girl, full of energy and impatience, which makes her a great teen character. Beyond anything, I loved watching her uncover and take on the potential she has to be a truly brilliant person.
Aimee’ s question for you is:
How well does the setting contribute to the story? (Would a different setting have affected the book significantly?)
Very rarely do I feel like a book’s setting is completely vital to the story, but Marchetta’s books have always elicited that feeling in me. I’ve never been to Australia (to the two Samanthas’ chagrin XD), but I do feel like I know it better now than I would on a tour, because Marchetta’s focus is the people Down Under. You never forget that you’re reading a story that takes place in Australia, but it’s so natural that it doesn’t affect how you might see certain characters.
This month’s host, Samantha R, has a bonus question:
Family, culture and identity all play a large role in Looking for Alibrandi. How do you feel Marchetta dealt with these issues?
I don’t talk about it much, but I identify as a third-culture kid, or TCK.
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” (TCKWorld.com)
- was born in the Philippines;
- grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
- spent eight years in Manila;
- and am now living in Toronto, with plans to eventually move to New York.
As such, I could very much identify with Josephine’s outlook regarding her cultural identity. The tensions between the Italian-Australians and Europeans still exist today, and I believe that Marchetta’s take on them works very well. She is respectful and understanding of both cultures. My experience in the Philippines was the exact opposite: if you came from America or any other Western country, you were simultaneously praised and reviled. My inability to speak Tagalog for the first 15 years of my life made people think I was a snob and worthy of bullying, so it won’t come as a surprise that I still have a hard time identifying with Filipino culture. My family was different, just as Josephine’s was–we never watched the shows or adored the same celebrities as the rest of my Filipino family, so not only was there tension between myself and my culture, but between my immediate family and the rest of my relatives. That informed my consideration of my identity and who I wanted to be, just like Josephine. Looking for Alibrandi was far more optimistic and progressive than what I’d expected for a book dealing with these same cultural tensions, and Marchetta is one of the few authors I would trust to handle those issues carefully.
The Final Say: Looking for Alibrandi is the kind of first novel that makes aspiring writers like myself hide our heads in disappointment, because I know I will never be as powerful a writer as Melina Marchetta was when she wrote this book. She takes an unlikeable heroine and breathes life and a immense amount of growing potential into Josephine Alibrandi. This is a book that isn’t easy to read, but which rewards those who try to understand the sheer complexity of human nature and the beauty of relationships.
Check out the Inner Senshi’s thoughts on their individual posts (to be updated as they are posted):
Meg/Sailor Mercury @ Coffee and Wizards
Samantha L/Sailor Moon: Coming soon.
Samantha R/Sailor Mars: Coming soon.
Aimee/Sailor Jupiter: Coming soon.
Feel free to leave a comment or share a link to your own post! See you next month when we discuss Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.