Melina Marchetta (1965–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1965, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Education: Attended business college; Australian Catholic University, bachelor's degree (education). Religion: Roman Catholic.
Office—c/o St. Mary's Cathedral College, 2 St. Mary's Rd. Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia.
Novelist and author of screenplays and short fiction. Has worked for a bank and as a commercial consultant in a large travel company; high school teacher in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Book of the Year designation, Children's Book Council of Australia, Multicultural Book of the Year Award for older readers, Kids Own Australian Literature Award, 3M Talking Book of the Year Award, and Fairlight Talking Book Award for outstanding talking book of the past ten years in young people's category, 2000, all for Looking for Alibrandi; Australian Film Institute Award, New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, and Film Critics Circle of Australia Award, all for screenplay version of Looking for Alibrandi.
Looking for Alibrandi (young-adult novel), Puffin Books (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1992, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Looking for Alibrandi (screenplay; based on the author's novel; produced, 2000), Currency Press (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
Saving Francesca (young-adult novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Family, edited by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Reed Books, 1994, and Nothing Interesting about Cross Street, HarperCollins, 1996.
Looking for Alibrandi was adapted for audio cassette, Bolinda Audio, 2000; Saving Francesca was adapted for audio cassette, Bolinda Audio, 2004.
Australian writer and educator Melina Marchetta is the author of the highly acclaimed novels Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca. Though categorized as young-adult fiction, both books span several generations through their focus on Italian-Australian teens completing their final years of Catholic school. Marchetta knows the world of her adolescent characters well: in addition to attending Catholic secondary school herself, she has worked as a teacher in an all-boys school in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia since graduating from college.
Born into a working-class family of Italian descent, Marchetta experienced a school experience that had its ups and downs. Because of an undiscovered learning disability, as a first grader she had trouble learning to read. Fortunately, with the help of her mother, who had wanted to become a teacher, Marchetta overcame her learning difficulties, although the experience left her with a residual shyness and lack of self-confidence.
Because of her lack of confidence with regard to academics, at age fifteen Marchetta left school. A course at a business school taught her useful office skills, including typing, and she found work in banks and then at a travel agency. There she met teenagers who were planning travels abroad after their high-school graduation. "I used to look forward to them coming in," the author noted to an interviewer for Australian Catholic online. "It made me realize I really liked being involved with young people." Working allowed her to gain the confidence to return to school and get her teaching credential; it also prompted her to begin writing.
While Marchetta began taking her writing seriously at age twenty-one, she did not find any success until she began mining her own experiences as inspiration for her fiction. "It was only when I started to write about my own world that things really clicked and I was able to produce a novel," the writer recalled in an interview posted on the Dymocks Web site.
Like Marchetta, the main character in Looking for Alibrandi is a third-generation, Italian-Australian schoolgirl. The young-adult novel tells the story of Josie, who is in her last two years of high school and trying to find herself as she deals with an overbearing grandmother, the social upper crust of her high school, and inner questions about her heritage and her status as lover or friend to the boys in her life. Although popular, Josie is viewed as an outcast both in terms of her Italian heritage and because of the fact that her mother never married her father. The reappearance of her father into her life leads the teen to ask important questions and confront the coming-of-age problems that face many high school students.
In a Booklist assessment of Looking for Alibrandi, Anne O'Malley commented: "What emerges from this delightful first-person narrative is a strong, fresh, adolescent female voice." The reviewer also commended Marchetta for her "lively, well-drawn characters and realistic teen concerns." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "the casting or plot may sound … [clichéd] but the characterizations are unusually insightful and persuasive." Writing in Horn Book, a reviewer called the novel "a quintessential girl book" and added that "adolescent readers will relish the friendships, rivalries, and romance—as well as the thrilling bits of rebellion." A critical and commercial success in Australia, Looking for Alibrandi garnered several of the country's top awards for juvenile literature and went on to sell over 300,000 copies. In addition to being published around the world in numerous translations, the novel has also been made into a film, with Marchetta writing the screenplay.
Marchetta continues to focus on teen life and angst in her next book, Saving Francesca. Transferring to the formerly all-boy's Catholic school St. Sebastian's, sixteen-year-old Francesca faces a crisis of confidence which is compounded by the fact that her mother is currently suffering from severe depression. His wife's condition baffles Francesca's father, and he seems unable to cope with the situation as the family begins to fall apart. With both parents preoccupied, Francesca is forced to find her own way amid her new environment, and she must make decisions with no guidance from the adults in her life. Determined to make a success of her time at St. Sebastian's, she becomes friends with girls and boys she would never have thought to speak to at her previous school, where she held a prized membership in an exclusive clique. Challenged by this new social situation, Francesca gradually discovers a new dimension of her personality, builds some close relationships, and even develops a romantic interest.
Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Deborah Stevenson observed that in Saving Francesca Marchetta "takes what could be a predictable problem novel and turns it into a rich exploration of maturation, identity, family, and friendship." Booklist writer Ilene Cooper noted that the mother's illness "doesn't work" as a plot device, but added that, "this flaw aside, teens will find the novel is a realistic satisfying reflection of their lives." In a review for Horn Book, Lauren Adams concluded of Saving Francesca that "Marchetta proves her craft in this fresh, funny, and heartfelt portrait."
In her Australian Catholics interview, Marchetta explained her interest in writing for a young-adult audience. "Although I was in the workforce, I was totally confused when I was seventeen," she noted. "My friends were still at school. I had no idea if I was an adult or a child. I think that's why I will always concentrate on that age group in my writing. Because that's when I was most confused about where I belonged and what my identity was."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), March 28, 2003, "Looking beyond Alibrandi."
Booklist, February 15, 1999, Anne O'Malley, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 1063; September 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 249; January 1, 2000, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 820; October 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Saving Francesca, p. 323.
Bookseller, September, 2004, Sarah Amond, review of Saving Francesca, p. 212.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1999, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 287; October, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Saving Francesca, p. 88.
Horn Book, May, 1999, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 334; September-October, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Saving Francesca, p. 591.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, November, 2001, Carol Reinhard, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 195.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of Saving Francesca, p. 870.
Kliatt, September, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Saving Francesca, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1999, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 69; September 6, 2004, review of Saving Francesca, p. 64.
SCAN (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), October, 1993, interview with Marchetta.
School Library Journal, September, 2000, Barbara Wysocki, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 84; May, 2002, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 52; July, 2004, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Saving Francesca, p. 61.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1999, review of Looking for Alibrandi, p. 115; October, 2004, Betsy Fraser, review of Saving Francesca, p. 304.
AustLit Web site, http://www.austlit.edu.au/ (February 23, 2005), "Melina Marchetta."
Australian Catholics Web site, http://www.australiancatholics.com.au/ (winter, 2003), Michael McGirr, "The Best Days, The Worst Days"; (October 16, 2005) "A Class of Her Own" (interview).
Dymocks Web site, http://www.dymocks.com.au/ (February 23, 2005), interview with Marchetta.
Lateral Learning Speakers' Agency Web site, http://www.laterallearning.com/ (May 10, 2006), "Melina Marchetta."
Puffin at Penguin Books Australia Web site, http://www.penguin.com.au/puffin/ (February 23, 2005), "Melina Marchetta."
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