The Magic of Melina Marchetta

Stephie talked about Neil Gaiman in her wonderful post on Monday and I was inspired to talk about Melina Marchetta who does not yet have the same celebrity appeal as Gaiman but mark my words, she will, eventually.


Melina Marchetta is an Australian author who has written books in remarkably different genres. Her oeuvre includes high fantasy novels, realistic fiction and a picturebook. In the following post, I will be discussing at varying lengths and with varying depths the books I have read by her and the books by her that I still want to read. I may also discuss her position as a crossover author but it depends on how late it gets and whether my tea runs out. So! Here we go!

Jellicoe Road
Published August 26th, 2008 by Harper Teen

I think I read this book in 2010 after months of hearing about it from friends and fellow bloggers who touted it as The Best Book They Had Ever Read and how many times have you heard of that before? But finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I succumbed and checked out the book from the library. Then proceeded to inhale it within two to three hours – seriously, I read it almost without blinking, I was that engrossed. There is something about the way Marchetta creates her characters – they are so flawed and vulnerable, shambling around the morass of adolescence, directionless but finding friends in the oddest places. The novel is set in Australia at a boarding school and deals with three groups of adolescents: the boarding school students, the townies, and the military cadets. They participate in a game (or war) of territory and rights and other fun stuff. It is difficult to talk about this book without diminishing its magic. The protagonist, Taylor, is the leader of the boarding school students and under her tutelage, the students invade and conquer territory belonging to the other groups. The thing about Marchetta’s books is that they are layered. The games is just one element of Jellicoe Road. Taylor is also tackling issues of missing parents and a guardian who seems to have distanced herself considerably from her. The book is mainly about friendship, even the romance, at its foundation, is about the friendship. I loved the storytelling, the heartache, the characters and the romance. There’s not a lot of romance but what there is of it is quite substantial. This will appeal to readers who like gnarly narratives, ones that make you feel as well as think. I’m not doing justice to it here but trust me, read the book.

Saving Francesca
Published May 9th, 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This one deals with the heavy stuff in a lighthearted manner. I mean, the mother is suffering from depression and Francesca is just trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in or if she even wants to fit in. As is her trademark, Marchetta executed this by paying attention to the dynamics in a family and in a group of friends. Her character building is superlative and she creates the group of friends that the readers will see more of in The Piper’s Son. 

The Piper’s Son
Published April 26th, 2011 by Candlewick

This book is probably the true crossover of all her books. The novel deals with the effects of one person’s death on his family on the other side of the world. Thomas McKee, whom we meet in Saving Francesca, finds out that his uncle was killed in one of the terrorist attacks in London and the story follows his journey to coming to terms with not just the death of his uncle but the effect this death has had on his entire extended family. The novel does not stick to Thomas’s perspective; the reader gets to see into the minds of the various adults around Thomas. This gives the narrative a whole lot more depth and range that would have been possible otherwise. This is one of those wrenching reads, there is a happy ending but with a lot of home truths to confront and get over before you can reach it. Thomas is a wonderful character and his friendship with the girls (introduced in Saving Francesca) is his saving grace. 82436

Looking for Alibrandi
Published May 9th, 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This novel is about identity – trying to fit in, pretty much being an adolescent and fighting the stereotypes and categories everyone seems to want to put you in. This novel is also about parents – finding out that they are flawed humans and loving them anyway. Josephine Alibrandi is an interesting character and while I personally did not like this one as much as I liked Marchetta’s others, other people seem to have enjoyed it a whole lot. It has won a lot of awards and has been adapted to a movie.

Marchetta has also written a high fantasy trilogy that I haven’t read:

Next month’s theme is fantasy so I probably will read the first one in the series (the books are not continuations; each one focalizes on a different character) and tell you how I feel. Apart from her foray into fantasy, Marchetta has written a picturebook which has for its protagonist the younger brother of one of the main characters in Jellicoe Road. 


Considering how much I liked Jonah Griggs, I need to read this one as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

I feel like Marchetta’s stories and style will appeal to readers regardless of their age simply because she grounds her narratives in relatable experiences. Everyone has had the day when they woke up and wished they hadn’t. Or wanted something and someone and had to deal with the impossibility of their desires. Her writing is sophisticated and she, I feel, demands a certain attention to detail from her readers which works grandly for adults. If you hadn’t heard of Marchetta yet, you probably should check out some of her books. Really.

10 responses to “The Magic of Melina Marchetta

  1. What a variety of works!

    I have marked your words and will certainly check out some of these very cool and interesting looking texts.

    So – crossover artist or just a good storyteller? What’s your verdict on the “label” debate?

    • I think this is a tricky one. She is a very good storyteller as she has people who would not usually read fantasy reading it just because she wrote it. But “crossover artist” too because The Piper’s Son is a work that can be read and enjoyed both by adults and younger readers. I guess it depends on how you define crossover.

  2. Love your love for Marchetta!

    One point I’d make though, is that Quintana is a continuation of the story in Froi – they are quite closely linked and Quintana directly picks up the plot of Froi.

  3. Melina Marchetta really should be as famous if not moreso than Neil Gaiman. She’s amazing. I believe I’ve actually read all of her books, though I’m pretty sure I read Looking for Alibrandi a VERY long time ago in middle school (?). I believe it was a book my mum picked up for me from the Salvation Army one day (because my mum is amazing and always checked out the book section for me whenever she went to Sally Anne). I’m going to have to re-read it though, as I remember nothing. Her Lumatere books are one of the best fantasy series I’ve read.

    • Thank you, my friend. I believe you’ve made me even more excited to begin the Lumatere trilogy. And how awesome is your mom? My mom, too, fostered a love of reading for me early on and I think it’s due to her influence that I am a good reader.

  4. I really need to check out the Lumatere trilogy. I agree with the above, Melina Marchetta is truly a household name in Australia. On a random note, my sister and I find it interesting how popular On the Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son are overseas compared to how in Australia, Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca are young adult classics. The latter books have been taught in the high school syllabus for many years and I think it’s popularity in Australia partly stems from how many Australians are from second/third/fourth generation immigrant families so the issue of cultural identity is something many teenagers can relate to. I remember when we first covered that book in Australia and classmates who weren’t really interested in reading getting really into that book. Anyway, tangent aside, a lovely post!

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