I’m beginning to realise that things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And sometimes, when they don’t, they can turn out just a little bit better.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta is one of Australia’s classic YA reads.

The story is centred around seventeen-year-old Josie–the illegitimate child of her Italian mother. Josie has a scholarship to a fancy private Catholic school and is in her final year of high school. She’d like to fit in better with her peers at school, and her big secret desire  is to have a dad.

Looking for Alibrandi is set in the 1980s–think a profusion of shoulder pads, teased hairstyles, the emergence of the cappuccino, and the AIDS epidemic all over the news. I enjoyed revisiting the 1980s–the decade of my own teen years and being a child migrant, I found it easy to relate to Josie’s sense of isolation. But while Josie felt isolated at times, she was very much a part of the Italian community. The story sheds light on Australia coming to terms with its multiculturalism and on the history of the Australian Italian community in Sydney.

I looked at him and wondered if he understood.

‘Because I have no father. Because if I did all those things hypocrites would shake their heads smugly and say “See, I told you she couldn’t amount to anything.” They’re waiting for me to make an error so they can compare me and my mother.’…’I can’t explain it to you. I can’t even explain it to myself. We live in the same country, but we’re different. What’s taboo for Italians isn’t taboo for Australians. People just talk and if it doesn’t hurt you it hurts your mother or your grandmother or someone you care about.’

This coming-of-age tale follows Josie’s final year of high school when Josie finally meets her dad, navigates her first romance and the complicated social dynamics of teen relationships, and she begins to see her mum and grandmother as women rather than as caregivers.

Josie’s yearning to come to terms with her cultural identity and her place is resolved in the story.

Looking for Alibrandi was the start of Australia’s YA fiction recognising diversity and for that reason alone, it’s worth giving it a read.

We read Looking for Alibrandi for the Centre for Stories Teen Book Club. There were mixed reactions from the group and I was disappointed that we rated it at only 12/20. A harsh rating indeed for Josie Alibrandi who will live in my heart for a long time.

Find out about Melina Marchetta.

Discover more of Australia’s Young Adult Fiction by visiting #LoveOzYA