It’s not every day that you come across a character like Frankie Vega. Born to a drug-dependant and irresponsible ‘whore’ and abandoned at the age of four at a children’s petting zoo, Frankie has been brought up by her aunt Vinnie and lives above Terry’s Kebab Emporium in the bustling (and slightly seedy end of the) Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. Exceptionally smart (she’s a crossword queen in her own words) and harbouring a strong and slightly unhealthy obsession with Ian Curtis from Joy Division, Frankie has grown up okay, despite her unconventional start. But she also has extreme anger-management issues, has one of the most sarcastic attitudes on the planet, and is about to be kicked out of school for breaking someone’s nose with The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
It’s a lot for a seventeen-year-old girl to have to deal with.
Add to this the unexpected news that she has a surprise half-brother named Xavier (who may or may not share some of their mother’s bad habits), and that she is the witness to a burglary, and no one can blame her for being confused about what is going on with life in general. When Xavier goes missing, Frankie feels obligated (as his only living relative who seems to care) to find him. She enlists the help of Xavier’s ‘friend’ Nate Wishaw- an insanely attractive yet somewhat morally-dubious fellow- and embarks on an adventure through the less-than-desirable suburbs of Melbourne to find him. But in the course of her search, Frankie is about to discover a lot more than just the whereabouts of her brother, and these are secrets that could change her life forever.
The character of Frankie Vega is like a pluckier Josie Alibrandi (of Looking For Alibrandi-fame), if she had come from a broken home and had a whole lot more attitude. Interestingly enough, the author of the aforementioned book has contributed a comment to the front cover of Plozza’s novel along the same vein (perhaps she sees some of her character in Frankie?) which should be enough of a recommendation for anyone. This book is not only realistic in its portrayal of a teenage girl from the wrong side of the tracks trying to better herself, but also of a young woman growing up and questioning how her life compares to that of others her age. Frankie is lovable, kind-hearted and loyal towards those she cares about, but she is also a little bit of a brat. It is easy to empathise with the way that she acts outs, and to see the world through her eyes. Her aunt Vinnie is also an inspiring character, taking on the care of her wayward niece and doing the best that she can with the circumstances she has been dealt. Through it all, she maintains a gutsy, bring-it-on attitude and a fierce family loyalty.
This novel is strong from start to finish, and most readers will enjoy Frankie’s sarcastic exchanges with those in her life (especially the ones with the people that she dislikes). The characters are all very relatable and ‘real’ and this makes for an entertaining read. Some of the events at the end of the novel are also quite unexpected for a story of this genre, which helps this book stand out amongst its peers just that little bit more. Lovers of Australian young adult fiction are sure to love Frankie’s story, and even if they don’t, then the impressive illustrative cover on this book should go some way towards changing that.