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Foxtrot's Theories

Book review - Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Rating: 27 votes, 4.74 average.
Looking for Alibrandi
By Melina Marchetta.

Puffin Books.
Copyright 1992.
261 pages.

‘Looking for Alibrandi’ is a story about a young girl, growing up in Sydney in the nineties. The only side of life to create any hassle is that she is Italian, with an Italian mother, grandmother and father, somewhere, growing up in an Australian world. Throughout the book, she spends her entire year twelve either at her home or at her grandmother’s, school or suburban areas, learning about herself and making friends.

The main character, Josephine Alibrandi, or Josie, is a feisty and head-strong seventeen year old. She received an English scholarship at the beginning of highschool to go to a strict, Catholic college, St. Martha’s. She is very intelligent academically and can achieve excellent grades when she applies herself. She is also the vice-captain at St. Martha’s to Ivy, an Australian favourite of all, whom she calls Poison Ivy. Most of her friends from primary school didn’t end up there, so she has made new friends, although most of the school is from the rich, Australian side of Sydney. She has only just introduced boys as a major part of her life, mostly involving Jacob Coote from the state school and forming a friendship with John Barton, from the Catholic boy’s school.

Josephine was born illegitimately to a seventeen year old Christina Alibrandi. The father, a boy of the same age named Michael Andretti, had to move away to Adelaide with his family before she was born. There was a part of him that knew Christina had gone through with the pregnancy, however he was scared and not prepared for a child. Michael had to come back to Sydney when Josephine was seventeen for his work as a barrister and bumped into Christina at a wedding.

Michael Andretti is stern and serious. Even Josephine notes him as “a worrier”. They have separate lives, he has a good job and a girlfriend. By the end of the story, they have grown close and he had gotten her out of trouble many times, like when she smashed Carly Bishop in the nose with a textbook and when she was wondering the streets alone after she stormed out of her date with Jacob Coote. He begins his life with her by saying that he doesn’t need any ‘complications’ and that it is all going perfectly without an ‘obnoxious creation’. Eventually they get to know each other and Josey works at his law chamber and begins to consider changing her last name to Andretti.

Christina Alibrandi, Josie’s mum, is supportive of her daughter and has raised her on her own for her whole life, with the occasional help of her mother. Jacob Coote said:
“You [Josephine] come across all tough and fearless while on the inside you’re a softy. She [Christina] comes a across a softy, whereas deep down she’s tough and fearless.”
Christina can be strong and honest when she needs to be and will do what she thinks is right, like suggesting to her daughter, the first time she met Jacob Coote and he was acting like a pig, that she didn’t think it would be good to let her go out with him again. She also is known to compromise, in letting Josie go out with him after she saw he’d smartened up a bit. She is like Josie, a dreamer. She says herself, “I wasn’t a rebel Italian [when I had you], I was a naive Italian.” She’d give her very life for her daughter and she loves her mother very much, despite not admitting to it.

Katia Alibrandi, known as Nonna to Josie, is the mother of Christina. She felt things too, just as her daughter and grand-daughter; she describes herself as a youth to have been a “gypsie”. When she was younger and came to Australia with her husband, she was alone in the outback with little knowledge of the language. She had the help of an Australian man, Marcus Sandford, who loved her dearly and would do things for her, seeing as her husband would be away on work. She did not pursue a relationship with him; people were talking as it was. “People will talk” is the quote that she practically lives by. The Italian community are known to ‘talk’. He came into her house one day and Christina was born nine months later. Marcus was going to take her away where nobody knew them, however, seeing as she’d defied her marriage so much, she at least had to stay with her husband. Her husband had lied to her all of these years, he could not have kids, however they stayed together. Nobody knew about Christina’s illegitimacy, Katia distanced herself from her because of it, until Josephine figured it out after finally taking interest in her grandmother, and she never told anybody. Katia and Josie develop a good relationship, even though Christina must never know. Katia was strong and has memories, even though she is old-fashioned, just like how she would never accustom herself to Josie’s Australian boyfriend, who she has no knowledge of.

Jacob Coote is the captain of Cook State Highschool. He is “deep and meaningful when he wants to be” in the words of Josie. He is with the ‘in’ crowd at Cook High. He has his pick of the girls and is popular and athletic. Jacob bullied Josephine when she was younger, not her specifically, however that was how life worked. He then falls for her and defends her, he beats Greg Sims when he tries to rape her and his friends, her friend, in the McDonald’s car park where she worked before the law chamber. They go through their fights, however they have high prospects in their relationship by the end of the book. Jacob’s mum died when he was young. It did hurt him, however he tries to move on from it. He does think about it, sometimes, however he is contented in his life otherwise. He now lives with his dad, who drinks a bit, and has an older sister of about 24 years of age with her own family now. Of course he naturally has prejudices against John Barton.

John Barton grows up in a prissy world and has all of the doors open to him. He does enjoy it sometimes, however it isn’t really what he wants to do with his life. He is expected to do well; while Jacob and Josie aren’t expected to get far, and he’s prefer that. Ivy Lloyd, or Poison Ivy, decides that she owns him. John does quite like Josephine though. He tries to be diplomatic with things, although he does not want to enter politics as everyone expects him to. By the end of the book, he commits suicide with a drug overdose right before his year twelve exams. That ruined the story for me, made me cry. Ivy and Josie begin to accept each other, however they are hurt as he was a true friend to them both.

I can almost relate to John Barton, not the suicide, however in means of having pressure on him and having to meet expectations. I can understand that, because it is so real. All of these characters are real and this story is only too possible.

The Italian Empire, where “people will talk” is real. It is very humorous actually, because it relates so much to my own life. Illegitimacy being the end of the world, and how gossip can start in one place and everybody know. I understand the gender stereotypes and the important role of religion, in when Katia cannot leave her husband. It is fairly old-fashioned and stubborn, the things that Josie is restricted from doing, however that seriously is life, no doubt about that. You’d have to be there to know it, and I’m there.

I’m a lot like Josephine. I can see how things aren’t fair, however I am able to accept them because decisions are made for me for my own good. Josephine says, “No way, Mama. If you say no I’ll accept it.” I also do think, like Josephine does, that the entire world is crumbling around me and I can be a little inconsiderate at times, accidently of course. I’m learning about myself and growing up, just as she is. Only I’m not in year twelve yet, and I’m not in a leadership role, as much as I like to be a leader.

The story is basically about growing up, which can be a challenge in itself, however the main complication is that she is Italian in an Australian world as previously outlined. It creates expectations and a way of life that may have been ethical in Italy, however not so in Australia. Also, the Italians here haven’t modernised with the Italians back there. Things that seem ordinary here just won’t flow with the Italian community, things like widows and women with children marrying, and two unmarried people living together, problems that both Katia and Christina face, and that Josephine will too unless she can run from it as she says she will, “I’ll run one day. Run for my life. I’ll run to be free and think for myself.”

There isn’t really a resolution, except that Josie learns to accept who she is. She may still want to run, however, for the time being, she is happy with it. She even says that it will be a part of her forever, her nationality, and even if she dislikes it sometimes it will always make her who she is:
“You can’t hate what you’re a part of. What you are. I resent it most of the time, curse it always, but it will be a part of me till the day I die.”
Josie grows up, that is how it all works out. She learns more about the world around her, like the hardships that both her mother and her grandmother went through, and she becomes more aware of the world around her. A major turning point is after the death of John, she suddenly realises that her life will always be what it is, and her deciding to get along with Ivy is another way of saying that she has gotten more mature, and that she understands.

In the story, the way things progress, how relationships develop, and the steps that Josephine takes to grow up, all happen through the things that she encounters. She begins her journey at a public event where every school has to make a speech. Josephine represents her school, as Ivy is too busy talking to the Premier of the entire state. There she meets Jacob Coote and doesn’t really know what to think about him, however he is impressed by his speech on the vote. However, she hardly considers herself interested, despite everyone, including herself, finding him attractive.

We then meet her grandmother and get a glimpse of her family life. She sees her father for the first time when he shows up at her grandmother’s house, however they do not converse, as ‘Nonna’ does not know who he is, and he’s only an old neighbour so far.

There is inter-school debating and Josie talks to John Barton. He is friendly and Josie gets along with him well. They decide they will see a movie together for school. He would have been her ideal boyfriend. Ivy comes and steals him away, despite the fact that he is reluctant to go with her. He doesn’t get a chance to be with her at the school dance a while afterwards, being caught up with Ivy, seeing as he is in that crowd with her. Josie dances with Jacob Coote, who gives her a lift home on his motorbike, as much as she’d rather not ride on it. She finds out that his mother died when he was younger. He tries to kiss her, however she refuses, they agree that they are from two different worlds and he leaves on good terms with her.

Next is Josie’s second encounter with Michael Andretti at her grandmother’s house. She speaks to him after her mother. Everyone is very clear that they want nothing to do with him. It is then that her grandmother realises who is and his relation to the family, at that, she decides she would not want to see him again, however she doesn’t cause a fuss. Josie stays with her mother overnight and learns more about her. She begins to take an interest after realising that her grandmother was a seventeen year old once too.

She arrives at school and attends class where she overhears Carly Bishop bagging people of European descent, calling them ‘wogs’ as an insult. Josephine had taken it for years and finally had gotten sick of it. They argued and then Josie hit her with her ‘Concepts of Science’ textbook. She calls Michael Andretti, as he is a barrister to help her, seeing as she’d probably have been expelled and sued. He comes to her rescue, even though they’d agreed to never speak to each other again.

On Friday, Josie speaks to Sister Louise, the headmaster of her school, as scheduled. She realises that she does care and notices that she’s human, despite being a nun. Her mum goes out on a date for the first time. Josie and her grandmother are furious, however her mum has a good time and Josie accepts that.

Whilst working at McDonald’s with her friend, Anna, Greg Sims, a boy who teased her as a child, enters with her friends. He would have been rude to her, however police came in to buy something so he leaves her be. They wait for her and Anna in the car park; they are ready to rape them both. Jacob Coote is just passing by with his friend, Anton, and he sees what is happening. He beats the living daylights out of Greg Sims. Anton takes Anna home, and they are quite fond of each other. Jacob takes Josie home. He asks her out, she considers it and decides to ask her mother. He agrees to meet her, only he’d never do that any other time and dislikes the idea. She talks to her mother who agrees to let her go out with him.
Curiosity gets the better of Josephine as she asks her grandmother to see photos and to tell her about her life. She finds out about how she met Marcus Sandford in a post office and he would help her, seeing as she was alone in the country. When her husband found out, he was furious and didn’t want to let her see him anymore.

On Saturday, she goes on her date with Jacob. He is a pig to her mother in spite of the fact that he has to meet her. The date lasts ten minutes and she storms out of the cinema complex before even entering the movie. On the long walk home, her father is driving past and picks her up to go and get pizza. He tells her that ignoring her existence won’t make her go away and they begin to develop an understanding relationship. Her mother is not angry, only she isn’t too keen on Jacob Coote.

Josie is enjoying her job at Mac Michael and Sons law chamber. Her joy is shattered when she has coffee with John Barton ant they talk about life. He worries, her, saying things like, “I don’t think I want to live this life anymore, Josie.” She is extremely worried and they decide to write on a piece of paper the way they feel and keep each other’s so that they can read them after graduation. It gives him a little hope, however she is still extremely concerned.

Josephine talks with her friends and tells them that she’d like to be a barrister when she grows up. Jacob Coote asks her out on another date. They decide they will wag school for it, not that she’d have ever dreamed of doing so in a million years. There won’t be any mother-meeting this time. They have a wonderful time and share in their first passionate kiss. On the mid-term holidays, Jacob gets a car. Her mum is supportive of them being together.

There is the St. Martha’s Walk-a-thon. Josie leaves with her friends and is in major trouble with Sister Louise because it meant that the little kids were unsupervised. She goes to see that movie with John and Jacob sees them there. They argue but they get over it. A couple of weeks later she is at his house for the first time. He would have liked to have sex with her, and she refuses it. After some conversation he accepts it.

She finds out about Marcus Sandford being her real grandfather and promises not to tell if her grandmother accepts Michael Andretti. She talks to John Barton and he is cheery and happy and the day later at her year twelve exams she finds Ivy crying that he had killed himself. It is sad. She reads the note he wrote earlier that year and realises that it was what he wanted to do. She attends the funeral. Jacob was also torn up; he was taking it harder than Josephine. He felt had something in common with John, somewhere, and he’d experienced death before and this probably reminded him of his mum.

Only now I realise that he was happy because he knew he would do it. He even said only the day beforehand, “I’ve got my whole future planned out the way I want it to be and there is nothing anyone can do to take that away from me.” It is sad, but also a good thing in a sense. It is what he wanted. I think Josephine learns to accept it a little at the end.

At the beginning of this book review, I though the ending was ridiculous and too sad. Now I understand more that it was really what John Barton wanted to do, kill himself. He was really looking forward to being able to run free, just like Josephine always said she’d wanted to do, even if that meant death for him. I like the ending, now I do. I now like that there was a challenge in figuring that out.

Besides that, I liked that Jacob and Josephine ended up having a caring relationship and that they became incredibly happy. I like happily ever afters. Throughout the book, I enjoyed that they were always able to become friends again after a fight. It made the book a lot more exciting.

I also enjoyed how the book exhibits how relationships developed throughout the novel. It was interesting to read about the way emotions develop between characters, specifically Josephine and her father. It was thrilling to read how they learn things about each other and accept each other in their lives, and the way that the Alibrandi’s become comfortable with him. It is also good to see how Josie takes interest in her grandmother and she can confide in her.

I’d change the time she spends with her friends. I’d like them to have played a more prominent role, or not be included in the story, as they add little to the plot. It would’ve made me happy if she did not skip school. It just ruined a little of the part of her that I though resembled myself.

I thought I’d have liked to change that John died. I now would not change that, it adds an important lesson for Josephine to learn on her journey of growing up. Death is something she had to learn to accept. However it could be in the blurb, it would ruin the story a little, although a warning would be nice for the light-hearted. I’d have liked if Melina Marchetta would elaborate more and explain how he saw his death was ‘running free’. I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t written this essay.

I learnt more about death from reading this. That pretty much sums it up. I never saw suicide as a relief or an escape, although it apparently can be. I picked up on a few facts that I’d have found in a history book, they were another factor that kept me engrossed in reading.

This would be a good book for somebody of European descent. It made it highly enjoyable for me as so much is only too true. It could possibly be aimed at someone a little older than myself, somebody who certainly has the insight to deal with suicide and not let it get to them. It has to be taken maturely, so possibly it would be a good story for the sixteen-and-up age group, however it does matter on the individual.

‘Looking for Alibrandi’ by Melina Marchetta is an extremely wonderful book, definitely worth reading and re-reading. It gave me a lot, and I can understand why people made such propaganda about reading it. I rate it ‘I couldn’t put it down, it was so good!’

3,523 words.


  1. Heathcliff's Avatar
    Mwahaha!! I finished it!!

    Only thing is, I'd have liked to make it so that I could exclude the parts I like, the parts dislike, etc. However I had to put that in for school.

    And, hahaha, I wrote 3,524 words. I estimated about 3,500. I am so happy!! Only took me nine hours.

    This is like a big burden off my shoulders. I'm guessin I wrote about seven times more than everyone else.

    Although, if I don't get a good grade, like, and A or an A+, you're all going to have a terrible time.

    It was a pretty cool book anyway.
  2. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    Good for you writing all this. Informative
  3. Heathcliff's Avatar
    Hehe. Thanks.