Frankie is a poignant and touching novel by Shivaun Plozza; a novel about searching for the truth, finding yourself and falling in love.
Frankie Vega is angry. Just ask the guy whose nose she broke. Or the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed, or her cheating ex-boyfriend, or her aunt who’s tired of giving her second chances.
When a kid shows up claiming to be Frankie’s half brother, it opens the door to a part she doesn’t want to remember. And when that kid goes missing, the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes… and secrets of his own. Frankie’s search for the truth might change her life, or cost her everything.
Ever since I heard about this phenomenally intriguing novel at last year’s The Year Ahead in Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, I’ve been dying to get my hands on a copy. Thank goodness my hounding of Penguin Australia didn’t reveal to be fruitless. Surely enough, I was rewarded with a shiny copy of Frankie to admire with heart-eyes, take photos for my #bookstagram account with (psst – follow me @written_word_worlds), and, of course, read. But I guess I’m using the term read loosely. Devouring it whole would be a more accurate description. It was utterly addictive and honestly one of the most enthralling novels I’ve read in a while. I fell head-over-heels for this gorgeous book. It was gorgeous not only outside, which is obviously beautiful beyond words, but inside it was filled to the brim with gutsy characters, irresistible charm and sharp wit.
I think this is definitely a more character-driven novel than a plot-driven one. Sure, the plot was intriguing and compelling in its own ways, but it wouldn’t have been the same without a person like Frankie to drive it. Reading through the eyes of Frankie was honestly like taking a big breath of fresh air. I didn’t realise how sick I was of living through the eyes of the same protagonists: heroes with just enough self-doubt that makes the reader empathise with them; a hero with a love interest who adores our protagonist not despite their flaws but *sigh* because of them; a hero with quirks that make them even more loveable; a hero that everyone loved, of course except for that oppressing government and that one girl in their class. You don’t understand how thankful I was to come across such a unique, complex character like Frankie.
Frankie is a person who is fuelled by a deep-seated anger towards her birth mother, who abandoned her when she was young. This anger felt raw and real, which was partly because her character as a whole felt realistic. She didn’t feel like a figment of Plozza’s imagination – she felt like a living, breathing person. And perhaps, she’s the strongest, most opinionated person I’ve read about in a while. Frankie was loud and assertive and not the type of person to be manipulated into making decisions or doing things to be ‘relatable’. It’s hard to explain this any other way, but it felt like Plozza didn’t create this character for our own enjoyment. She didn’t try to mould Frankie into someone we could all relate to and feel for 110% of the time; Frankie was just unapologetically herself. She was filled with rage and insecurities and yet a desire to make the woman who is more her mother than her birth mother ever was proud of her. All of these things made her someone I loved even more and respected because of that.
Even though everyone regards Frankie as trouble, she is someone who is constantly trying to prove herself and make Vinnie proud. Sure, she makes some dubious decisions but she always has the best intentions, caught between struggling to make people see that she isn’t a failure and ‘doomed’ to live a life like her birth mother and trying to protect her family no matter the cost. It was beautiful and tragic to see her so impacted by her predicament, but while she did have a vulnerable side and deep down she was hurting, she didn’t let the pain of her tormented life mould her into a carbon copy of her mother just because society expects the ‘bad genes’ to control her. The strength it took Frankie to overcome that prejudice and prove to her family and friends that she could determine her own fate and that she was going to take the pain of her life and transform it into something beautiful and something she was proud of was quite remarkable. But I guess, this could only be expected from such a remarkable piece of literature.
I also really loved Xavier. Although I would have loved to have seen more of him in this novel, for the time we knew him, I definitely could empathise with him and his need to be loved and feel accepted. His story was honestly such a tragic one, made even more heart-wrenching because of his innocence and vulnerability. As with every other character in Frankie, we saw Xavier to be a deeply flawed person, but someone who was trying to make the best of their situation despite their past. It was quite touching to see that no matter how misguided these characters were or how many mistakes they had made, they never stopped striving to achieve their aspirations and under trying to prove themselves to the world, they were also trying to prove that they were worthy of love to themselves. It was also great to read a novel where the romance didn’t overshadow the other important messages of the book and didn’t have a drastic effect on Frankie’s character development, acting as something more in the background as opposed to being Frankie’s driving force.
Through reading Frankie, I was made aware of something shocking that occurs in our society because of the twisted prejudices people hold. What I’m talking about is the treatment of missing people, teenagers in particular, and how the police prioritise finding some people over others. Without naming names of the sake of #spoilers, it disgusted me that the police would focus all their resources of finding some rich kid and pay no attention to someone who was a lot more vulnerable in the community, someone who hadn’t come from a loving home and who didn’t have many places to turn to, just because they’re seen as rebellious or ‘no good’. This type of blatant, vile discrimination really affected me and made me think back to the types of people that I see on the news for being missing. While this novel is just fiction, I don’t doubt that this sort of twisted prioritising occurs daily, we just don’t hear about it because even the police must realise what they’re doing is shameful and wrong.
Another thing I loved about this book was Plozza’s writing style. She manages to capture the teenage voice so perfectly and with such precision that takes your breath away. Somehow, Plozza manages to intersperse wit and laugh-out-loud humour amongst the emotional and dark scenes, creating the perfect balance of emotions so this novel doesn’t feel either too heavy or too light. Something that I really admire about Plozza’s writing is that she incorporates such ugly truths that we all must come to understand and realise in her novel without it feeling too controversial or as though she was trying to shape the way the individual thinks about these vital issues. Instead, everything that occurred felt natural and benefited the plot, intertwining these points of discussion with the overarching story arc and the lives of the characters, all of which were unique and had their own distinct voices.
Told through the honest eyes of a teenage girl desperate to feel loved and understood, Plozza weaves the truths of this unjust, imperfect world into a narrative that not only highlights the importance of being accepted by those around you, but accepting yourself. Such a poignant tale of finding out the true meaning of ‘family’ will surely leave all readers with tears in their eyes and warmth in their heart, reassuring us that even in the darkest and most lonely of times, we will all find the courage and resilience to carry on and not let our past define us. I’d give Frankie by Shivaun Plozza a score of 10 out of 10. It’s time to discuss this book! Did you fall in love with the characters like I did? Do you think that the issues this novel raised are ones we should talk about more? What’s your favourite #LoveOzYA book? I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions! 🙂
Thank you to Penguin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!