Saving Francesca

A powerful story in the silences and the questions, in the feelings of isolation and belonging. Feeling alone in a new school and dealing with her mother’s depression…who is left to save Francesca?


Francesca Spinelli finds herself at a new school – a school that until recently was boys-only, but because they’ve given girls their own bathroom, now it’s considered coed. Francesca feels the sting of loneliness, as her former girlfriends are at a different school and she must figure out where she now fits in. There don’t seem to be great girlfriend options: there’s the nerdy accordion player Justine, the bad-reputation Siobhan, and the political nihilist Tara. The boys she finds even more irritating: immature Thomas, brutish Jimmy, and moody/smug Will (who she oddly can’t get out of her mind).

Adding to the stress of where she fits in school is the excruciating pain she feels from a mother who suddenly can’t get out of bed. She feels unmoored by the isolation of her mother’s silence and depression, disappointed in a father that doesn’t seem to know how to fix her mother or relate to his children, and a younger brother for whom she now feels responsible.

How can she possibly navigate a new alienating school while also being completely lost at home?

Who is left to save Francesca?

The truth doesn’t set you free, you know. It makes you feel awkward and embarrassed and defenseless and red in the face and horrified and petrified and vulnerable. But free? I don’t feel free.

— Melina Marchetta


This story – seemingly about a new school, new friends, and new relationships – actually feels to me like a story about family. Because of her mom’s inability to connect to Francesca and work through her pain, all of that desperation bleeds into Francesca’s demeanor. She doesn’t realize how much of her mother’s vibrant personality and happiness gave her strength and confidence in the past. In that void, she is left to find her own way, to open herself up to new friends, to ask for and receive help.

The characters are awkward and cool and irritating and hilarious. I felt like I was back in high school dealing with all of the different personalities and dynamics and hierarchies. But I also loved seeing the glimmer of vulnerability in each one, the ways that just a glance or a change in body language can reveal a crack in the well-constructed armor of a teenager.

The times when I let myself open up to the strained relationships and the raw feelings that Melina was writing about, I would find myself overcome with the same emotions. She has such a gift for breaking open a character and revealing their vulnerabilities, fears, and strengths and conveying that to the reader.

This turned out to be such a surprising read. I picked it up on a whim expecting some ill-formed teenage angst, and instead was completely surprised and emotionally overwhelmed by the beauty of this book. Marchetta writes such a powerful story in the silences and the questions and the feelings of isolation and belonging. It’s a story that feels heavy and uplifting at the same time. This is definitely a new favorite!

It’s a weird smile, but it reaches his eyes and I bottle it. And I put it in my ammo pack that’s kept right next to my soul and Justine’s spirit and Siobhan’s hope and Tara’s passions. Because if I’m going to wake up one morning and not be able to get out of bed, I’m going to need everything I’ve got to fight this disease that could be sleeping inside of me.

— Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca
by Melina Marchetta
Paperback, 243 pages
Published May 9th 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers


A powerful story in the silences and the questions, in the feelings of isolation and belonging. Feeling alone in a new school and dealing with her mother's depression...who is left to save Francesca? This book was delicious and hard to put down! Absolutely a new favorite!

— Cassie
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