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English 9-10

The Ultimate ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ Cheatsheet | Year 9 & 10 English

This article is the ultimate overview for 'Looking for Alibrandi'.

Are you studying for Looking for Alibrandi and unsure of how to break down the text? No worries! In this Ultimate Looking for Alibrandi Cheatsheet, we explore the plot, important characters, key contextual points and the themes of the text to ensure that you’re ready to ace your next assessment.


The ultimate ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ cheat sheet


Plot summary – What happens in Looking for Alibrandi?

At ‘Have a Say Day’, Josie sits next to a boy called Jacob Coote. She initially ignores him because she remembers the pranks he pulled on her when they were younger because of her Italian background. However, after a passionate speech, her opinion of him changes. This is also where their friendship begins.

After school, Josie visits her Nonna Katia. Here, Nonna and Josie’s mother, Christina, argue about Christina’s method of raising Josie. This causes Josie to run away from Nonna’s home. As she is leaving, she runs into her biological father, Michael, who is visiting Sydney. This is the first time the two meet but they do not know each other.

A few weeks later, Michael comes to a family bbq. Here, Josie finds out that Michael is her biological father when she overhears him tell Christina that he doesn’t want a daughter. Josie storms into their conversation and they swear to never talk to each other again.

Josie visits Nonna every day, despite their tense relationship. However, for the next few weeks, Nonna shares stories about her relationship with Nonno Francesco and Marcus Sandford. She tells Josie that she and Nonno migrated to Australia when they were 17. Nonno is unappreciative and barely home and the only person who treats her with respect and kindness is Marcus.

When the debating season begins, Josie befriends John. John shares that he has depression because his family is pressuring him to do law. This is a shocking discovery for Josie because John comes from a wealthy family.

Meanwhile, after meeting with Jacob a few times, she gives him a chance and goes on a date with him. However, when Josie asks Jacob to meet with her mother, Jacob becomes mad. So, to spite Josie, he purposely wears ugly clothes and is rude towards Christina. This causes a fight between Josie and Jacob. Their relationship stays rocky throughout the novel.

When Josie leaves the date, she runs into her father, Michael. Michael takes her out for some pizza because she seems upset. After some talking, he invites her to work in his law firm as she wants to become a barrister in the future.

A few weeks after, her family holds their traditional Tomato Day where they make tomato sauce for pasta. Here, Nonna shares more stories about Marcus and how he tried to save and protect Nonno and other Italian men from being wrongly imprisoned by the Australian government. He also helps Nonna with housework during the time that Nonno was away. This helps Josie better understand her grandmother’s experiences in Australia.

When it is St Martha’s Walkathon, Josie and her friends decide to skip it. When they are caught, Sister Louise tells Josie that she was voted as School Captain but the role was given to Poison Ivy instead because they thought that she is better suited for it. This changes Josie’s perspective of her social standing; she isn’t as disliked as she originally believed.

Soon after, Christina’s birthday comes around. Here, her family jokes about Christina’s real birth date. This is when Josie realises that Marcus Sandford is Christina’s real father, not Nonno. This also explains why Nonno mistreats Christina and Josie.

Just before the HSC exams, John commits suicide. This makes Josie mad because she thought that John has a good life just because he’s from a wealthy family. However, this experience also made her realise that being wealthy doesn’t automatically erase issues in life.

At the awards ceremony, Josie and Ivy talks to each other. After John’s death, the two realises that they were quite similar to each other and reconnect. They even agree to meet up for coffee once they go to University. After the ceremony, Michael takes Josie out for pizza again and tells her that he’s moving to Sydney permanently and wants to adopt her.

Josie takes some time to think and talk to her mum about it and decides that she will take Michael’s last name and accepts him as her father.

A while later, Josie and Jacob break up. However, instead of feeling sad about it, she cherishes everything she learns in the relationship.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - father daughter laying down


Important characters

Let’s take a look at the important characters in Looking for Alibrandi.


Josephine (Josie) Alibrandi

Josie is a 17-year-old Australian girl from an Italian immigrant family, completing her HSC exams. She’s loud, sarcastic, and dramatic. However, she is also very self-conscious of her classmate’s opinions of her, especially when it comes to her Italian heritage. She thinks that her classmates are snobbish because they are white and richer than her. She also wishes to become a barrister because she believes that money will bring happiness.


John Barton

John Barton has been Josie’s crush for years. However, throughout the novel, they become good friends instead. John comes from a wealthy family where his father is a lawyer. His family continually pressures him to study law, which becomes the main cause of his depression. He ends up taking his life just before the HSC exams.


Jacob Coote

Jacob is Josie’s boyfriend. He is opinionated, a trouble-maker, and tough on the outside. However, he is very caring and soft on the inside. Jacob is happily living a middle-class life and wants to be a mechanic when he’s older.


Christina Alibrandi (Mama)

Christina is Josie’s mother and is very protective and proud of her. Despite having Josie unexpectedly when she was 17, she believes Josie is worth sacrificing her dreams. Growing up, she had a strained relationship with her parents: Nonna and Nonno.


Michael Andretti

Michael Andretti is Josie’s biological father. However, he has been absent for most of Josie’s life because he leaves Christina thinking she is having an abortion. It is only when Josie turns 17, that he returns to try to make amends. He is a successful lawyer in Adelaide.


Nonna Katia

Nonna Katia is Christina’s mum and Josie’s grandmother. She is an Italian woman who migrated to Australia with her husband. In Australia, she had an affair with an Australian man and gave birth to Christina. She is quite strict towards her daughter and granddaughter and holds traditional Italian expectations on them. This causes her to have a strained relationship with Josie. However, it is clear that she still cares for them, despite the generational differences.


Nonno Francesco

Nonno Francesco was Nonna Katia’s husband and passed away 10 years before the novel. He mistreated Christina because he knew she wasn’t his biological daughter. However, he continued to pretend she was his biological daughter to uphold the Italian community’s expectations. He also disowned Christina after she had Josie as an unmarried teenager.


Marcus Sandford

Marcus was Nonna Katia’s lover and Christina’s biological father. He helped protect Nonna when the community was highly racist towards Italians. He only appears in photographs in the novel and is only revealed as Christina’s biological father in the end.


Lee Taylor

Lee Taylor is Josie’s best friend. She is Australian and Josie believes they don’t share much in common. However, they are able to talk for hours together. She is kind and popular, despite her family being racist (and using anti-Italian slurs).


Seraphina (Sera)

Sera is also Josie’s friend and is also Italian. She comes from a rich, wealthy family, so she is always wearing new, fancy clothes and make-up. She is also quite stuck-up and brazen, as she does whatever she wants and forces people to do silly things. She and Josie argue quite a lot due to their differences.


Ivy Lloyd (Poison Ivy)

Ivy is stuck up, a teacher’s pet, and racist. She believes that immigrants and immigrant descendants are inferior to white Australians. Her family is wealthy as her father is a doctor and she hopes to be like her father. Josie views her as her arch-nemesis because she is so different from her. However, by the end of the novel after John dies, they both realise that they’re quite similar as they relied on John’s friendship.


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Key contextual points

Looking For Alibrandi was written in 1992. This time period was markedly different to Australia today! Consequently, understanding key contextual points during this time will help you better understand the text and break down the themes. Let’s break it down now!


Melina Marchetta’s personal context

Melina’s personal upbringing and experiences inspired Looking For Alibrandi.

She said,

“I wrote because I loved reading so much, but I was disappointed that I didn’t see myself in those words. There was nothing about my or my family’s experiences out there, including on film.” 

Her grandmother immigrated from Italy to Australia around the 1930s, before the start of WWII. This is similar to Nonna Katia and Nonno Francesco who also immigrated to Australia around this time. Melina said in an interview with Buzzfeed that the stories about Nonna and Josie’s mother were inspired by the stories that Melina’s great Aunts shared with her.

Melina is also a third-generation immigrant who attended a Catholic school like Josie. Her family and herself struggled with fitting into the white-Australian community being Italians. Ultimately, she created the character of Josie based on her younger and older sisters to explore the struggles that she and her family experienced.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - melina marchetta

Image of Melina Marchetta, author of ‘Looking for Alibrandi‘.
Source: Penguin Books


Gold-rush Italian immigration in Australia

From the 1800s, the Australian government opened their borders for necessary workers to migrate and settle. This begun the influx of migrants from Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Italy.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the White Australia Policy was introduced, which allows the deportation of Kanakas (people from the Pacific Islands). During this time, the Australian Worker’s Union believed that the Italians were harder workers than the Kanakas and that they were also willing to be paid less. So, more Italian migrants arrived as a result of being nominated by their friends and family in Australia. Most of them worked in sugar cane plantations or mining companies in the goldfields.

Due to the influx of Italian migrants, many of them become unemployed, especially those who lacked physical skills for the needed jobs. This begun the tension between white Australians and Italian-Australians as they both competed for jobs. This tension lasted for decades.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - bathurst gold rush


Post-war Italian migration and anti-Italian racism

When the United States held stricter restrictions on Italian migration during WWI, Italians turned to Australia instead. This is why there was a sudden influx of Italian immigrants in Australia.

During the 1940s – 1960s, approximately 42 000 Italians migrated to Australia to seek a better life. People were searching for a better place post-WWI and were being sponsored by their family and friends who are already living in Australia.

Italian immigration became one of the largest movements to Australia, and unfortunately, the racist white Australian view has not changed.

Italians were viewed as ‘job stealers’ or ‘pests’ because they were taking the labouring jobs in Australia. Italians were also bigoted against for their religion as they were mostly Catholic. During this time, Protestants were the majority religion in Australia, and the Protestants ‘hated’ the Catholics. This placed the Italians in the spotlight for discrimination.

Furthermore, after World War II, the Australian government began to imprison Italian men because they thought that the Italians would conspire with the Japanese against Australia. This is referenced in Looking for Alibrandi as Nonno was captured by the Australian government.

As such, the migrant experience in Australia for the Italian immigrants was not the best, especially due to the anti-Italian beliefs that most of Australia held.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - Italian migration

Image of Italian migrants entering Australia during the 1950s. Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs



When you are analysing texts, it is crucial that you are examining the themes in them. This will help you form stronger arguments in your essays and have a better overall understanding of the text.

Now, let’s have a look at the themes in Looking for Alibrandi and how to approach analysing them.


Identity, self-discovery and coming of age

Josie never felt like she fit into Australia and her Catholic school because she came from a family of Italian immigrants who aren’t wealthy like her classmates. She was also bullied because of this.

“Also there were no Europeans like me. No Europeans who didn’t have money to back them up. The ones like me didn’t belong in the eastern and northern suburbs.”

She is born out of wedlock and doesn’t have a father figure in her life. This is why she believes that she is inferior to her peers and feels like she has to work a lot harder to achieve things that her wealthier peers can easily achieve (like becoming a barrister).

“Even though the girls at St. Martha’s don’t mention it, I bet you they’re talking about me behind my back. I can feel it in my bones. It makes me feel I will never be a part of their society and I hate that because I’m just as smart as they are.”

Consequently, Josie wants to leave behind her Italian heritage and traditions and become an upper-class lawyer to finally feel like she fits in.

“I’ll run one day. Run for my life…I’ll run to be emancipated.”

Josie also feels as though she doesn’t fit into her Italian community. Her relationship with her Nonna is strained because her Nonna thinks that she is too ‘disrespectful’ for being free-spirited, free-thinking and speaking her mind. She doesn’t understand why her Nonna is so uptight and is so adamant about upholding Italian traditions.

However, as the novel continues, she realises that life isn’t unfair because she is different. She learns about her Italian heritage by listening to Nonna’s stories about migrating to Australia. This helps her understand why Nonno treated her mother and herself coldly and helps her learn to accept her background.

“All this information I’ve gathered from Nonna and Mama, who was a child of the sixties, I’m going to try to remember it. So one day I can tell my children. And so that one day my granddaughter can try to understand me, like I’m trying to understand Nonna.”

By the end of the novel, she accepts that she is Italian and Australian; not one or the other. She accepts her multiculturalism and is content with her identity.

“Like all tomato days we had spaghetti that night. Made by our own hands. A tradition that we’ll never let go. A tradition that I probably will never let go of either, simply because like religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you can’t escape it. No matter how far you run”

Looking for Alibrandi is ultimately about Josie finding her sense of self and accepting all parts of her identity. She realises that she is the one who is trapping herself in these thoughts and that once she accepts her identity, she is free.

“Relief because I was finally beginning to feel free. From whom? Myself, I think.”

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - butterflies flying out of a jar


Immigrant experience and cultural differences

There is a great cultural difference between first-generation Italian migrants, third-generation Italian migrants and White Australians. Throughout the novel, Josie feels trapped between loving and hating her Italian heritage because there are big differences between the cultures. This also leaves her feeling like she doesn’t belong to either culture.

For instance, Italians believe that illegitimacy is highly taboo in their culture. Nonno Francesco lies about Christina being his biological daughter to prevent being shunned by the Italian community. Also, when Christina gives birth to Josie illegitimately, Nonno and Nonna are highly disappointed; Nonno even disowns her. Nonna Katia also lies to Josie about her being born illegitimately.

“I remember the lies my grandmother would tell me. That I did have a father who died. My mother never lied to me that way. Maybe that’s what I dislike about Nonna. That she couldn’t accept things as they were.”

This is a great cultural difference between the Australian born and Italian immigrant families. John asks Josie “what’s the big deal?” about having “babies without being married” and getting “remarried” with others. However, Josie explains that this is very different in Italian culture.

“I shook my head. ‘I can’t explain it to you. I can’t even explain it to myself. We live in the same country, but we’re different. What’s taboo for Italians isn’t taboo for Australians. People just talk, and if it doesn’t hurt you, it hurts your mother or your grandmother or someone you care about.'”

This clashing of culture and culture shock can be a source of confusion and displacement for immigrants and children of immigrant families.

Another example is Josie’s Tomato Day. This is a tradition in Josie’s family where they make tomato sauce from scratch. Other white Australian families don’t have this tradition because they buy tomato sauce from the supermarket. However, it is a very important tradition and cultural practice in Italian households. This difference causes Josie confusion growing up.

“I can’t understand why we can’t go to Franklin’s and buy Leggo’s or Paul Newman’s special sauce. Nonna had heart failure at this suggestion and looked at Mama.

‘Where is the culture?’ she asked in dismay. ‘She’s going to grow up, marry an Australian and her children will eat fish-and-chips.'”

Through this, we can see that Looking for Alibrandi explores how cultural differences can become a source of confusion for many immigrant families, especially second or third-generation children.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - homemade pasta sauce


Racism and prejudice

Looking for Alibrandi explores how being an immigrant or descendant of immigrant families can place someone in a position of prejudice and discrimination.

For instance, from primary school to high school, her white Australian classmates bullies her for being Italian by calling her Italian slurs. Her current boyfriend, Jacob even bullied her in primary school for being Italian. As they grow older, this bullying stops. However, this doesn’t stop the ingrained societal bigotry against the Italians. For instance, during a fight with Josie, Jacob shouts “ethnic people” should go back to where they come from, before quickly apologising.

This unfortunate experience is also shared across generations of immigrant families. Through listening to Nonna’s stories, Josie learns that prejudice and discrimination is experienced by all generations of immigrant families. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding and desire to connect with the immigrants.

“The Australians knew nuting about us. We were ignorant. They were ignorant. Jozzie, you wonder why some people my age cannot speak English well. It is because nobody would talk to them, and worse still, they did not want to talk to anyone.” – Nonna Katia

By the end of the novel, Josie understands that immigrant families try to hold onto their culture because it is all they know. The Australian society is very unaccepting of immigrants, so it creates a scary and new world for them all.

“I think my family has come a long way. The sad thing is that so many haven’t. So many have stayed in their own little world. Some because they don’t want to leave it, others because the world around them won’t let them in.”

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - racism is a fence


Love (relationships, family)

Love appears in many forms in Looking for Alibrandi. We see the love between couples like Josie and Jacob or Nonna and Marcus, between family members like Josie’s family, and between friends like Josie and John..

Looking for Alibrandi shows that love is not determined by the length of the relationship, but instead, the quality of the relationship. It also shows that love can be untraditional like Nonna and Marcus Sandford.


Nonna and Marcus

Nonna and Marcus’ relationship blooms because Marcus treats her with respect and kindness whereas Nonno takes Nonna for granted and doesn’t appreciate her. Marcus also treats Christina with respect and love, unlike Nonno.


Josie and Nonna

At the beginning of the novel, Josie and Nonna has a strained relationship because of the cultural clashes. Josie doesn’t understand why Nonna still upholds traditional Italian views and Nonno doesn’t understand how Josie is so ‘untidy’ and ‘disrespectful’ according to Italian views. However, throughout the novel, the two grows closer. They overlook their differences and learn to accept them.


Josie and Jacob

This novel also shows that love can be a learning experience that helps individuals grow. Josie and Jacob both have major differences in their relationship, but because of that, the two learn and grow from each other. Jacob teaches Josie to appreciate family and not take them for granted because his mother passed away when he was younger. Josie teacher Jacob to take life more seriously and be more ambitious. They both walked out of the relationship as changed people.


Josie and John 

Since John is from a wealthy family, Josie automatically assumes that John is happy and has no problems in his life. However, after growing close to him, she learns that being wealthy does not make an individual problem-free. John is depressed because he feels like his family is choosing his life paths for him and he has no free-will to pick his career and life. He is Josie’s reality check.

Looking for Alibrandi Cheat sheet Year 9 and 10 - love flower wreath



Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.


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