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No one can grow in 'self knowledge' and 'self identity' without facing up to the challenges of life.Three major characters in Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi face up to the challenges put before them and the extent to which they grow in self-knowledge and self-identity., I realised as a young adult, was not a ‘try-hard’ book about identity and belonging.
This sort of thinking was not uncommon because many young adult books of the time dealing with ‘our lives’ never quite got the voice right.
They sounded like adults ‘trying hard’ to focus on ‘teenage themes.’ But in , we found a heroine who lived in the suburbs with her single mother and her meddling grandmother, who went to school, obsessed about boys and worked at Mc Donalds.
Our own thoughts seem pedestrian and suburban, ever revolving around school and home.
We feel we have nothing interesting to say so we resort to trying to sound more ‘sophisticated.’ We do not allow ourselves to sound like teenagers because we feel that teenage experience amounts to not very much at all.
She wrote about a strong young woman’s epiphanies in the span of a year: her burgeoning awareness of class identity, her integrity in deciding whether and when she wanted to give herself away, her centred sense of self in relation to the men in her life, her loyalty to her friends, and her reaction towards death. One minute something happens in my life and I’m flying. Josie’s grandmother, with her oppressive concern about ‘what others thought’ could have been my mother lamenting about gossipers in Footscray, or could have been my Elwood friend’s smothering mother who fretted over creases on her daughter’s Laura Ashley clothes.
These are deep philosophical musings on life, and they take place in the most ordinary of settings: a school locker room, a grandmother’s sitting room, a car park, a street cafe. Next minute I take a nose-dive and just as I’m about to hit the ground with full force something else will have me flying again. Back when this book was published, the shelves of libraries and bookstores still had the category ‘Ethnic Literature.’ The term ‘New Australian’ was used – un-ironically – to refer to recently arrived migrants, usually by people whose own ‘Australian’ ancestry dated back less than two hundred years.There are no wailing victims of patriarchy, no big familial feasts featuring big bowls of pasta.No charges of chauvinism or cringing self-indulgent woe-is-me stories of being teased for school lunchbox pastrami sandwiches.You were accepted if you realised your ‘woggy’ or ‘chinky’ ways, and could make fun of your ‘ethnicity.’ Yet what this book tells us is that twenty years ago, we weren’t ready to make fun of such matters because people were still laughing at us, and not with us.So making fun of ourselves was often tinged with some degree of self-loathing. No-one's life is ever totally free of troubles or struggles.People have to deal with illness, disappointment in love and relationships, natural disasters, war, even death.Her grandmother is always on her back about where Josie is and whom she is seeing.Josie feels like there's a spy network watching over her every move "Signora Formosa saw you, she said you and your friends almost ran her over.Josephine Alibrandi doesn’t put herself down in order to fit in with the girls at school.She is self aware – she makes fun of herself and her family, but it is a gentle and self-contained humour.