Warning: this post discusses suicide.
Twenty-five years on from its release, Looking for Alibrandi is still one of Australia’s most iconic stories.
As a novel, it’s been taught in schools around the world since its release in 1992, and as a film — well, it’s hard to find a woman above the age of 25 who doesn’t know it line for line.
Its lead character Josephine “Josie” Alibrandi was, in a way, like a fully realised Rorschach test; from her migrant background to her absent dad, model grades, struggling attitude and being attracted to the wrong boys, everyone could see something of themselves in her.
Watch: Bring on all those nostalgic feels with the Looking for Alibrandi trailer:
“A lot of the people would say to me, ‘there are so many girls in this story,'” Marchetta tells Mamamia.
“When we were adapting the script they would say, ‘You’ll have to cut that down,’ but I couldn’t really because it’s a love song to those girls out there who didn’t have a voice. The girls who sat at the back of the class and didn’t have anything to say; the girls of non-English speaking backgrounds who didn’t, and still don’t really, have as much of a voice as Anglo girls.”
Growing up as the youngest child of migrant parents in Sydney herself, Marchetta’s aim of bringing Josie into the world was simple.
"I wanted to write about a girl who was like my sisters and I," Marchetta says.
"I never ever read about girls like us. So it was very selfish, but I wanted to see a girl like me in the book because I wanted to see that I existed beyond the parameters."
In addition to her abundance of women, Marchetta says she also had one major struggle when it came to bringing her story to the big screen.
"I had to fight for John Barton," Marchetta says. "There was a real question mark over whether or not he'd make it."
Listen: This high schooler’s book collates letters from famous Australians to their teenage selves. Post continues..
For anyone who's read Marchetta's seminal coming-of-age story or watched the 2000 movie adaptation, it's inarguable that John Barton was - and still is - one of the most important characters in Australian young adult fiction.
In the film, Barton (brought to life by Matthew Newton) was everything you'd want a young man to be: intelligent, popular, ambitious, handsome, charismatic.
The boys wanted to be him and the girls wanted to be with him, none more so than Josie herself.
What none of them realised until it was too late, though, was that John Barton was hopelessly depressed, something Marchetta says was difficult to pull off in her screen adaptation.
"In the early drafts of the script [his death] would happen at the end, and the producers were worried people would walk out of the cinema depressed," Marchetta said.
"So there was a question as to if he should be in the film at all."
While now it's hard to imagine the movie without him, Marchetta had to "get the novel and smash it on the ground," and pick up the pieces in a new order, moving John Barton's death to the middle of the film to keep him.
"There, [his death] acts as the catalyst for Josie. It propels her forward to get through her exams and get through to that next stage."
Cue images of Carly Bishop ugly crying, a cover of U2's 'With or Without You', and Josie Alibrandi tearing up John Barton's farewell letter.
Take a minute if you need it — we're reaching for tissues too.
What were your favourite moments of Looking for Alibrandi?
Melina Marchetta will appear at the National Writers' Conference in Melbourne on June 17 - 18 as part of the Emerging Writers' Festival.