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Looking for Alibrandi is the story of Josie’s experiences at school and her relationships with friends and family during her last year at St. Matha’s girl’s school. She goes through many struggles especially with her changing identity as a second-generation Italian immigrant in a predominantly white school. She is subject to discrimination due to her culture and tradition. Josie also deals with elements of classism as she does not have the wealth that some of her classmates do. Throughout the book, many Australian cultural boundaries and biases are broken.
The prominent cultural divides portrayed in the book are crossed in many ways most evidently by romantic relationships. For example, the strong parallel between Josie’s relationship with an Australian boy named Jacob and her Nonna’s secretive affair with Marcus Sandford when she first immigrated to Australia. Both of these relationships cross cultural divides due to the separation of Italian and Australian cultures more so for Nonna as when she first immigrated there was almost no contact between the different cultures. Although when Josie and Jacob start dating the divide is not as much as what Nonna Katia experienced there are still stark differences between the two. Josie’s life, for example, is ruled by strict guidelines, curfews, and cultural traditions in direct contrast to her boyfriend Jacob’s relaxed family life. There are multiple times when it is shown that it is difficult for them to understand each other such as when Jacob wants to take out Josie but is told he must meet her mother first. Jacob takes this as a sign of distrust, however, it is merely a cultural more that he learns to understand.
Another cultural boundary that must be overcome is social class. Josie is shown to have less money than most of her peers and this adds to her feelings as an outsider. These feelings also have negative ramifications for those around her as she does not think that it is possible for people with more money or higher social standing can still have problems. This boundary is broken for Josie principally by John Barton’s suicide. He was wealthy, came from an affluent family and had seemingly endless possibilities yet he chose to take his life. This is a harrowing wake up call to her that while people may seem different due to their status they are all the same. After this event, Josie also finds that Poison Ivy, her arch-nemesis, also has her struggles and can truly relate to Josie in ways neither of them would have expected.
The boundary of social class is also shown in the relationship between Jacob and Josie. She often feels as if he is too far removed from her private school life for them to last for example on page 289 Josie says ‘He had his sports clothes on and his hair tied back in a little ponytail. When I looked down at my long uniform, black stockings and black shoes, starched blazer and conservative tie, I wondered if we’d ever find a niche together.’ This bias comes in many forms throughout their relationship prominently in the way Jacob speaks. When the two are together Josie is almost always editing his speech to sound proper and higher class. As their relationship and they get to know each other superficial issues like what kind of clothes they wear become less important further breaking Josie’s perceptions of lower-class people.
As Josie progresses through the story she learns more about the world and the people within it. This makes her a more understanding person and breaks down her preconceived biases of those around her. The author presents cultural differences as both superficial in the context of class or status and as deeply ingrained like Josie’s Italian heritage. In both contexts these boundaries, if met with understanding and respect, can be overcome and celebrated. This is paralleled within Josie as her personal struggle to connect with both her Italian side and her Australian side eventually coming to the conclusion that she is ‘an Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins. I say this with pride because pride is what I feel.’
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