Adult Themes in Young Adult Literature: Looking for Alibrandi
Note- I used the ebook version of this text so citations will include location and chapter numbers.
The idea that Young Adult literature does not or should not contain mature themes and content is strongly challenged by Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi. Within the pages of this novel we as readers are taken on a journey of the growing and shifting perspectives and understandings of the world surrounding an Australian teenager named Josie Alibrandi, her family, and the friends, teachers, and fellow students she interacts with. Through this intellectual and witty teenager, we as readers experience wide breadth of deeply complex topics and themes that explore religion, cultural identity, love, family, suicide, and the mind of a rebellious teenager. Looking For Alibrandi is an emotional journey that’s mature themes and content will engage young adults while also providing the necessary complexity and depth necessary for an adult reader to enjoy this novel and walk away from it feeling satisfied as a reader. In my opinion, this novel fits in incredibly well with the other novels we have read this semester. The themes experienced in this novel mirror those that were constant throughout our readings this semester. By addressing these often emotional and private concepts such as cultural identity, depression, and love, Looking For Alibrandi creates an unique experience through the vibrant and interesting cast of characters in which readers can easily find themselves drawn in. There are many scenes and characters in this novel that create huge amounts of tensions in the novel. For example, Josie is constantly experiencing conflict with her very strict and extremely catholic grandmother, and Josie is similarly distraught by the unexpected reappearance of her estranged father. These conflicts and others like them push the narrative forward and keeps the reader’s attention and interest throughout the entire novel. Looking For Alibrandi is undoubtedly a novel that bridges the gap between young adult novels and novels for adults.
For me, one the most interesting elements of the novel lies in the relationship between Josie and her estranged father who has reappeared in her life. Josie’s father, Michael, abandoned Josie and her mother when Josie was young. This sense of abandonment that Josie experiences from growing up without a father, especially within the context of existing in devoutly catholic community, has shaped and molded Josie’s identity. This is exemplified when Josie sees her father for the first time when he comes to her house. Josie had created and infinite amount of images of what and who her father was and was still in shock when she saw him. Josie’s thoughts when she first sees him are, “I looked at him and at the moment every image I had of my father flew out the window. I thought he’d be tall. He wasn’t. I thought he’d be good-looking. He wasn’t. I thought he’d look like a weakling. He didn’t.” (Marchetta Location 516 Chapter 3) For me, I find the inclusion of a protagonist of a young adult novel living in and navigating the world from the perspective of a single parent household is a topic that is extremely poignant to a modern audience. There are millions of children and young adults who are in a similar situation as Josie, and this form of representation for these children and young adults is incredibly important. By increasing representation and diversity in young adult literature, doors are being opened and opportunities are being created for more and more people to experience and identify with young adult literature. Looking For Alibrandi is a novel which clearly succeeds in this notion and has received critical and commercial success, while also being translated into a film version of the novel. If having your novel turned into a film isn’t the holy grail of young adult literature, I don’t know what is.
Overall, Looking For Alibrandi is a powerful and moving novel that contains very serious and mature themes. One of those themes is the topic of suicide. Suicide is an unbelievably complex topic that rarely makes it into the pages of young adult literature. With the suicide of Josie’s friend and sometimes love interest, John, Looking for Alibrandi takes a dark yet necessary turn in regards to representation. Suicide is without a doubt one of the most serious and sad issues facing our world, and young people are killing themselves at higher rates than ever before. Issues that are so serious such as suicide need to be addressed in areas such as young adult novels more often in order to increase awareness and perhaps offer avenues of support and identification for young people who are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Young people are naturally drawn to entertaining forms of media and Looking for Alibrandi and other novels like that can definitely fill that role for young people. By being incredibly entertaining and containing some extremely serious and complex social issues, Looking for Alibrandi is a novel that succeeds in a large number of ways. I am very thankful for the opportunity to read and review this novel as I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of engagement with the novel I felt while reading it. This is a novel I would recommend to anyone, of any age, and that’s what makes it an absolutely outstanding young adult novel.
Marchetta, Melina. Looking for Alibrandi. Penguin Group (Australia), 2015.