Melina Marchetta is an Australian YA author of Italian descent. I mispronounced her last name for years until I took an Italian class in college. (‘Ch’ in Italian makes the ‘k’ sound. Think gnocchi.) Her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, swept the Australian literature awards the year it was published and ended up on the national required senior reading list. She was teaching English at an all-boys school in Sydney at the time, which I imagine that made for some interesting class discussions with the author.
About the Books
With the exception of the Lumatere Chronicles (which I love), Melina Marchetta writes realistic fiction. Looking for Alibrandi was such a huge success in Australia that she says some readers there have no idea she has written anything else. I really had no concept of how big the Italian immigrant community is in Australia until I started reading her books, many of which feature Italian Australian characters. The family dynamics, mix of culture and languages, and Catholic heritage remind me a lot of many of the Mexican American families I knew growing up.
She really broke into the scene in the U.S. when Jellicoe Road won the Printz award in 2009. Her books are the best kind of YA: hopeful while still acknowledging that teenagers often have to carry adult-sized problems without the benefit of experience. Even her fantasy series feels very true to present-day concerns with conflicts around language, immigration, and complicated (but loving) relationships between parents and children. She recently announced she would be taking a short break from writing novels. I am heartbroken. I’m only surviving the wait because her books are just as good the second (and third) time around.
Finnikin of the Rock is my favorite of all books. Of her realistic fiction novels, my personal favorite is Saving Francesca. If you were to ask me where to start, my answer would depend on whether or not you like fantasy novels. If you do, I lend you my trusty copy of Finnikin of the Rock immediately. If you don’t, I would confidently hand you Saving Francesca or Jellicoe Road (and a box of tissues).
You can find more about Melina Marchetta on her website.