A rough guide to some of the much-loved Australian author’s titles.
In 1993 Melina Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, swept the pool of literary awards for young adult fiction. The subsequent 1999 film found a special place in Australian screen culture, capturing the imaginations of a generation, winning several major awards and much critical acclaim. The words ‘Alibrandi’ and ‘Marchetta’ had been cemented at the centre of the Australian young adult literary map.
Several novels have followed, traversing contemporary realism and fantasy genres and covering thematic material as wide-ranging as surviving high school, adventures in illusory kingdoms, dealing with loss, journeys of self-discovery, living with mental illness, the pushes and pulls of adolescence, family dynamics, friendships and first loves. Her 2016 novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a contemporary detective thriller with an unforgettable cast of characters – a story of human identity, lost children and the nature of real love. It’s another twist in an extraordinarily rich and diverse literary career.
Here we take a look at some of Marchetta’s novels to-date. Just in case you missed something, or perhaps you came in late…
Looking for Alibrandi (1993)
Fun fact: Marchetta also wrote the screenplay for the 1999 film of the same name, and won the 2000 Australian Film Institute Award for Best Screenplay and NSW Premier’s Literary Award for her efforts.
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. This is the year she sets herself free.
Saving Francesca (2003)
Fun fact: Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi both feature teenage girls of Italian descent, but that’s where the similarity between the two books begins and ends. In a 2003 Sydney Morning Herald interview, Marchetta makes a surprising distinction: ‘I felt that the boys were just aliens [in Looking for Alibrandi],’ she says. ‘They were just the love interest. The father, even, was a bit of a love interest. I wanted the boys in Francesca to be real.’
Packed with humour, compassion and joy, Marchetta’s second novel follows the fortunes of Francesca as she navigates her second term in Year Eleven at an ex-all boy’s school that has just started accepting girls. She’s missing her old friends, and, to make things worse, her mother has had a breakdown and can barely move from her bed. But Francesca had not counted on the fierce loyalty of her new friends, or falling in love, or finding that it’s within her power to bring her family back together.
On the Jellicoe Road (2006)
Fun fact: As a wink to her regular readers, Marchetta’s ‘Ben the Violinist’ character from On the Jellicoe Road pops up again in another of her novels. See if you can pick it…
Taylor Markham was abandoned at a 7/11 on the Jellicoe Road by her mother when she was 11. Her only recollection of her father is a brief memory of standing on his shoulders. She’s since lived at Jellicoe School most of her life, and as leader of the boarders that’s her greatest asset. Especially now the territory wars between the boarders, townies and cadets are about to recommence. But Taylor has other things on her mind: including trying to understand the mystery of her past. And Hannah, the woman who found her, has suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing but an unfinished manuscript about five kids whose lives entwined twenty years ago on the Jellicoe Road…
The Lumatere Chronicles
Fun fact: How does a writer known for contemporary realism bring their audience along on a foray into the fantasy realm? According to Marchetta: cheat and stick to a known formula. ‘Big family dynamics. Broken communities. A past that needs to be revealed before a future can be possible… The [Lumatere] novels are really the Finch-Mackee and the Spinelli and the Alibrandi families on a medieval road trip,’ she said in an interview with Literacy Worldwide.
Finnikin of the Rock – Finnikin has not been home to his beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was brutally murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then he is summoned to meet Evanjalin, an enigmatic young woman who claims the heir to the throne still lives.
Froi of the Exiles – Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has finally found his home in Lumatere… or so he believes. But when he is sent on a dark and secretive mission to the rival kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds in its surreal royal court.
Quintana of Charyn – Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi and his companions travel through Charyn searching for Quintana and building an army that will secure her unborn child’s right to rule. While in the valley between two kingdoms, Quintana of Charyn and Isaboe of Lumatere come face-to-face in a showdown that will result in heartbreak for one and power for the other.
The Piper’s Son (2010)
Fun fact: This return to realism is the sequel to Saving Francesca, this time focusing on the fabulously flawed Thomas Mackee.
Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world. But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And in a year when everything’s broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil (2016)
Fun fact: With the drama unfolding in London and Calais, this is the first of Marchetta’s novels (barring the Lumatere fantasy series) to be set outside Australia.
Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board…
The Place on Dalhousie
Fun fact: As a bit of an insider nod to her regular readers, in The Place on Dalhousie Marchetta reintroduces characters from two of her previous books. Can you spot them?
When Rosie meets Jimmy, she has left Sydney behind, and along with it the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt but never completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. So begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to budge from the home they both lay claim to. As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy re-enters Rosie’s life – grappling with forming a family of his own.