Throwback Thursday Book Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Welcome to a new weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!

Today’s Throwback Thursday book review is my own choice, an Australian modern classic from the YA genre, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. I chose this book to read as I am completing a read along with a dear like minded bookworm friend. It’s also one of those books I should have read but haven’t until now. I’m so glad to have finally made room in my busy reading and reviewing schedule to experience this ground breaking YA coming of age tale.


Melina Marchetta’s stunning debut novel Looking for Alibrandi is one girl’s story of her final year at school, a year she sets herself free. Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen and in her final year at a wealthy girls’ school. This is the year she meets her father, the year she falls in love, the year she searches for Alibrandi and finds the real truth about her family – and the identity she has been searching for.
A moving and revealing book, unusual for its honesty and its insight into the life of a young person on the brink of adulthood. Multi-award-winning, a bestseller and made into an award-winning feature film, Looking for Alibrandi has become a modern classic.

My review:

So it seems Melina Marchetta’s modern classic, Looking for Alibrandi, which has been studied in high schools across Australia, has escaped my attention until now. With the exception of the film version that I watched when it was released back in 2000. The opportunity to participate in a read along of this novel with a bookworm friend finally allowed me to discover the work of well-known Australian novelist Melina Marchetta.

The vivacious and perceptive narrator of Melina Marchetta’s novel, Looking for Alibrandi, is Josephine Alibrandi. We meet Josephine ‘Josie’ Alibrandi at one of the most pivotal and tumultuous years of her life. Josie is seventeen, sitting her all important HSC where she holds a scholarship at a wealthy Catholic school and has aspirations to become a barrister. Josie’s year is a big one as she negotiates a renewed relationship with her absent father, delves into her first romance, learns a family secret or two and sadly experiences the loss of someone close to her. Looking for Alibrandi highlights the experience of what it is like to be a young woman growing up in Australian in the 1990’s and how it feels to be a third generation immigrant. We can learn a thing or two from this award-winning and popular coming of age piece of YA literature.

Looking for Alibrandi is one of those books that I should have read many years ago, but unfortunately didn’t and as I went to high school in the UK, I didn’t get the chance to read this via the school curriculum. I am making up for lost time through participating in a read long experience with a dear friend of mine. I thoroughly appreciated my first experience with Melina Marchetta.

The first thing that struck me about Looking for Alibrandi was the main character, 17-year-old Josie Alibrandi’s voice. Gosh, it seemed to come across as loud and clear! The characterisation is quite exemplary. This doesn’t just extend to the lead, but to the supporting character list, from Josie’s protective and devoted mother Christina, stoic Nonna, disconnected father Michael, first love Jacob, partner in arms John Barton, enemy Ivy and Josie’s friend set of Sera and Anna. Each and every one of these characters was perfectly realised, they appeared before my eyes so clearly.

For a YA novel, Marchetta tackles some fairly big issues but this is handled with a deft and light hand. From class differences, racism, prejudice, immigration, politics, education, careers and suicide, Marchetta covers a great deal within the one novel. A few of these issues did seem a little outdated, such as Josie’s illegitimacy and the ethnic relations in Josie’s school, as the book was written over twenty years ago. Readers will still find they are able to connect to the themes highlighted in Looking for Alibrandi.

As much as this is a superb coming of age tale of a young Australian girl with strong Italian roots, Looking for Alibrandi is a novel that delves into the complex nature of family relationships, head-on. There is the typical mother daughter relationship between Josie and her mother, full of tensions that we come to expect from a teenage girl. There is the fragile relationship between Josie’s mother Christina and her own mother, stemmed from strained family relations. Then there is the father-daughter relationship that sparks between Josie and her father who re-enters her life. Finally, Josie’s relationship between two boys that are the same age as her, but come from very different sides of the tracks, was a shining part of the novel for me and of course the part of the novel that moved me the most.

My final word on the brilliance of this groundbreaking YA novel, is the Sydney based setting. There are plenty of flowing and detailed descriptions of Sydney. From Josie’s brilliantly realised home in Glebe, through to some familiar spots in Sydney that I recall from a trip I made to the city many years ago. Marchetta’s prose took me right back there, despite the time that had passed since I was last at this stunning part of Australia. For international readers, Marchetta really showcases the city and seems to capture the real Sydney.

All in all, I am so very grateful for the experience of reading Looking for Alibrandi. I am now able to see why this book has received so many accolades both awards wise and the personal endorsements that this beautifully rendered book has received from fellow readers. A must read for both young adults (14+) and adults alike.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was published in 1992. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta, visit here.







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