Quick review for a progressive read. It’s hard to describe my reactions to this novel, because, on one hand, this is quite apt to Melina Marchetta’s style of writing – strong characterizations, compelling family-centered stories, and emotional revelations on the topics she touches upon (particularly with respect to race, violence, prejudice, etc.) I enjoyed the journey this novel took me on for the most part, even as it handed down its revelations progressively rather than in one felt swoop like the magnitude of the crime(s) this book centers upon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are relatively few books that I find myself rendered speechless upon, and Melina Marchetta’s “The Piper’s Son” certainly qualifies among the esteemed few. I’m impressed with so much about it as an overall story – it hit me in a place I didn’t expect to be hit. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its share of cons versus pros, but this story did so much for and to me in the experience of reading it. One thing to keep in mind is that when reading a story, every person’s experience with reading it varies widely – what may work for one person may not for another. I’m well aware that among some of my friends and followers, this book varies in the wide medium between loved and critiqued.
What I can say in my overarching reflections of this novel is that it may take a while for the reader to get to know the situation and characters in the rolling dynamic this story has to offer, but it’s well worth the journey taken. “The Piper’s Son” is a sequel to Marchetta’s “Saving Francesca.” From my perspective, you really don’t need to read SF if you want to read “The Piper’s Son” – but it helps. It helps having a color to some of the characters that are already here. Having read “Saving Francesca”, it was a warm welcome back to some of the cast of characters I knew from that novel, and watching them expand as young adults was certainly a pleasure.
What you need to know is that “The Piper’s Son” follows two primary viewpoints in the course of the narrative. The first is Thomas (Tom) MacKee, a 21 year old musician struck with the grief of losing his uncle Joe, distanced himself from the only girl he’s ever truly loved (Tara Finke), been abandoned by his father at a time when Tom needed him most, dropped out of uni, and is thrown out by his flatmates as well as jobless. We meet Tom in the beginning of the novel stumbling out of the hospital and reluctantly helped by an old friend (Francesca) while coming to terms with the aftermath of events. Tom goes to live with his aunt Georgie – who serves as the second primary narrative in this work. Georgie has her own share of problems, grieving over Joe, worried about her brother, pregnant with a child she feels conflicted over, and ultimately trying to come to terms with so many of her own issues.
What made this novel so special to me was how intricate the experiences of each character came across, and the detail taken so that it’s easy to get into their minds and reactions to what goes on around them. It may seem from the premise that there’s a lot of drama to be had in this story, but it really doesn’t come across in a way that feels inauthentic or distanced. Tom is a young man who isn’t the most likable character in his actions/reactions in spurts, but Marchetta beautifully portrays him as someone who is shouldering a great deal of mental blows and the road he takes through his fragmented family and coming to terms with his own actions/reactions. I honestly wanted to hug him for what he’s had to deal with and just wanted things to turn around for him. For Georgie, I felt the same way. It’s interesting that, even while considering this is a young adult novel, we get such a intricate of Georgie’s perspective too despite her being an adult character, but she’s such a part of Tom’s experiences. And she deals with so much in her respective mental sphere that it would be difficult to imagine her narrative not being an intricate part of this. It’s like seeing the whole picture of a completed puzzle and figuring where the pieces of each character fit and where they don’t.
It’s really a story of family, relationships, dealing with grief, and a coming to terms that – I just don’t see very many people writing in YA who approach their stories with such intimacy or this level of character competence and consequence. I really don’t. Even as an aspiring writer myself, I found so much to take from the experience of reading this as well because it hits so many points of what I like to take from the stories I read – it’s the story of the characters it shapes and shows their experiences, delves into what meaning that has, presents the conflict with such an ease that you feel what’s happening with one character, but at the same time realize/recognize the impact of the other characters or setting within the scene. Tom and Georgie are compelling to watch go through these motions, and ultimately it’s rewarding to see how their respective lives are pieced back together and how they move forward.
I’m not sure how much else to say about it other than the journey was well worth taking, and it’s one I would encourage reading for both the experience and narrative strengths. I’d rank this alongside how much I enjoyed Marchetta’s “On the Jellicoe Road,” though I have to note that this novel was a little easier for me to get into than “Jellicoe Road”. Marchetta has this style of rolling narrative where she jumps right into presenting the characters, personalities, and story, and while it may take a little bit to even out with the many people who are central to the lives of both Tom and Georgie, it’s worth seeing how they all crash, crush, and collide with each other. Certainly one of my favorite reads from this year, and one I wouldn’t mind coming back to.
Overall score: 5/5
“Looking for Alibrandi” is one of my favorite Melina Marchetta books to date. Something about it clicked with me in terms of the familial focus as well as Josie’s coming to terms with the people and events around her. She’s the kind of protagonist who can be absolutely insufferable in spurts, but at the same time, it’s hard not to feel for her during some of the tougher moments this novel has to offer.
Between getting to know her long separated father, dealing with her contentious mother and grandmother, and having to deal with her school life and rumors surrounding her family, Josie has much to contend with. She’s of Italian descent, though born in Australia, but feels like an outsider because of the taunts and discussions of how her mother had her at a young age and her father left. However, when her father returns in her life, she’s not sure how to take it. On one level, she’s willing to push him away (and he feels likewise), but the two of them develop a relationship progressively that suggests that they need each other more than they think they do. In the mix of things, Josie finds love and friendship among her peers, learns more about her family than she realizes, and experiences quite a bit of heartache that takes her to new lows. In the end, Josie learns in her 17th year that life has its ups and downs, but as mentioned in one measure in the book, she learns it’s what you make of your life, and the dreams you have that keep you going.
I loved the depth of the characterization in this book, much like some of Marchetta’s other works. Josie’s a hard-headed, but self-aware narrator, so when she screws up in places, at least she reflects about it in the aftermath to note her mistakes. There really were times when I wanted to admonish her through the book about the things she said or did that were foolish, but you remember she’s still a teenager and acting through the range of emotions that she feels in her circumstances. I appreciated the focus that Marchetta has on Josie’s family and ultimately the revelations that Josie uncovers in spurts. You can tell Josie loves her family, and while she has her ups and down, she’s surrounded by people who want the best for her. You can also tell this in the people she develops relationships with. I definitely liked the relationships she shared between Jacob Coote and John Barton. One of the twists in the book did completely take me by surprise and tugged at my heartstrings. I didn’t cry over it, but it definitely left me feeling gutted – for Josie as well as the people surrounding her.
I’m totally for coming of age stories that are told in a progressive fashion, and this was one of the books that clicked with me. I think it’s a novel that quite many teens can gain something from, when it comes to finding comfort in your identity and learning to come to terms with who you are and what you want in life. Josie’s a protagonist that isn’t always lovable, but the way she learns to come to terms with herself is refreshing, and something that I think is quite nice to see in her respective story.
Overall score: 4/5
I’m honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed and identified with this book. It took me a little while to come to terms with my thoughts on the overall book, but reflecting on it, I loved the character exchanges, interactions, and emotional resonance showcased in this novel, and that’s perhaps what made the strongest impression on me.
Francesca is a young woman who deals with the affect of her mother’s depression on her and her family while adjusting to a predominantly boys school which doesn’t make her life any easier to manage. When you’re one of only a small group of girls in what was once an all-boys school, where the boys are…well, not that supportive of you, it’s a difficult situation to cope with. Marchetta captures Francesca’s uneasiness and her growing relationships in a captivating way.
The view of Francesca’s family also surprised me, because on one hand I saw the spiral that Francesca’s mother was going through (though notably through Francesca’s lens of the situation, so it was colored in that tint to an extent), while at the same time looking at how her family reacted to it. There was a fair share of grief, anger, confusion, among a wave of different emotions that felt palpable given the context. I was definitely surprised by the revelation behind what her mother was going through, and it yanked at my heartstrings.
“Saving Francesca” is marked with Marchetta’s trademark humor and sensitivity, though I had a few qualms in the aftermath of reading it. I’ll admit it didn’t draw me in as much as “Jellicoe Road” if for the measure there were many characters I really liked, but didn’t always get a chance to feel close to them, particularly among the larger supporting cast. I also think that the love story wasn’t as fulfilling as I would’ve liked it to be, though it wasn’t the centerpiece of the novel, just one part of it.
Regardless, it’s a story that I would no doubt read again, and I hold it in high regard.
Overall score: 3.5/5
To be honest, Finnikin of the Rock wasn’t one of my favorite novels by Melina Marchetta, but there were elements of the story that I liked well enough to make me curious/invested enough to read the sequel “Froi of the Exiles”. I will say that listening to this via audiobook helped me digest the story a bit more than I probably would’ve in the print version. It has many elements that I find I like in a fantasy story, and certainly some intriguing ideas and turns that were plausible, but I felt a little disappointed that some of those elements weren’t better/more expanded in their execution.
The story revolves around the titular character of the work, Finnikin, who journeys in an attempt to reclaim his homeland, Lumatere. The kingdom was lost to a coup d’etat in a jarring onslaught – men, women, and children killed alike along with the royal family – when Finnikin was nine years old. The event, termed “the unspeakable” left the people of Lumatere scattered and shaken among different territories – some trapped inside kingdoms, holding fast to their traditions in secret, while others were left poor and left for dead. Finnikin travels with Evanjelin, a seemingly silent girl who claims to know how to lift the curse put upon the people of Lumatere, but claims the only way to do so is to journey back to their land and reclaim it. There are many turns along the journey, some filled with revelations pertinent to the characters and their relationships.
Let me first start by saying that I liked Finnikin’s character – I thought his character was fine for much of the book and was part of the reason why I liked it as much as I did. I can’t say the same for Evanjelin, though I recognized she was a headstrong character working in the interest of things that are unknown to the reader up to a certain point. She grated on my nerves a few more times than not, and while I don’t mind reading about unlikable characters taking the helm of fulfilling a destiny – it was hard to find a redemptive factor for her in some considerations. I thought she was largely deceptive – lying, turning tailcoat in a few places, among other things, and the text didn’t seem to support her motivations that well. Even when revelations about her true character were revealed, I didn’t feel the jarring connection. It was an interesting twist, but it would’ve been somewhat better if the conviction were carried a bit better. Also, the relationship between her and Finnikin felt very forced towards the end, particularly with the role Finnikin’s said to play in the reclaiming of his homeland and his aspiring role. It felt more like a political move more than one of deep desire and an embrace to destiny.
I usually love Melina’s ability to capture the emotional conviction. The dynamic of her characters usually tug at my heartstrings (particularly did so in “On The Jellicoe Road” – which captures well the emotion of a young woman discovering her history and identity), but I didn’t feel that same strength in this book, though I would say this is a different territory than her coming of age books and lending more to the fantastical realm. But even for a fantasy novel, there were parts of it that felt lacking in the worldbuilding to fully immerse me in the people’s plight and in suffering the pains that they were said to suffer in many measures of the story. It also tended to drag its feet a bit more before reaching to some of the pertinent plot turns. I appreciated some of the interactions, and spots of it were intimate, but with more of a gloss than a full immersion.
The assorted supporting cast of characters were decent, though I’ll admit a few of them did get lost in the sea. For the ones that struck me, one of them – Froi – left me feeling a little ill at ease. On one hand, if a certain incident had not come to pass, I probably would’ve found his incorporation into the group a bit more bearable, and though he’s a bit bratty in places, I could take his rounding out as character towards the end. But that said incident…it’s one of those things where I think the lack of expansion upon the character motivations really put a strike against me really seeing how the relationship dynamic worked the way it did. I might be in the minority on that opinion.
Nonetheless, I found the story itself, though familiar in certain tropes, kept my attention. I’m going to see where the story goes from here, though I know the next book will be more from Froi’s perspective. It should be interesting to see how things work progressively from the point where this novel ends.
Overall score: 2.5/5