Allegra in Three Parts: a charming coming of age story that reminds you how complex family can be

Allegra in three parts book review

What is this about?: Allegra is an 11-year-old girl who loves her grandmothers and her father, and does her best to be everything to everyone. But she forgets that she has a voice too, that she gets to say who she wants to be.

What else is this about?: t’s about Allegra figuring out how to balance her three worlds, and her three worlds figuring out that she actually needs that chance to figure out who she is without them telling her who she should be. There are strong themes of feminism, domestic violence and women’s rights in this at a time when all those movements were growing and women were becoming more aware of who they could be and not who they had to be for their husbands.

Blurb

I can split myself in two . . . something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can’t stand each other.

Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn’t be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women’s movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her ‘true essence’. Rick lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He’s trying to be a good parent to Al Pal, while grieving the woman linking them all but whose absence tears them apart.

Allegra is left to orbit these three adult worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that’s created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most.

Allegra in Three Parts is very ambitious. It is written from the POV of a young girl in 1970s Australia, against a backdrop of feminism, women’s lib and religion and for the most part Suzanne Daniel manages this mix with skill and compelling writing.

Do I have issues with some parts of this? Yes. Do I think it’s still ultimately charming and should be on your TBR? Yes. Here’s why.

Allegra and her grandmothers

I’ve only ever experienced having my grandmothers in my life, so right away I understood the power they have over Allegra — the need to keep them both happy, and the struggle to understand why they say the things they do bc their struggles were something I would never have experience of.

I never wanted anything more than to make my grandmothers happy, and I know they would want the same for me. They guided and understood me for the most part, but the things we never understood about each other, we tried to find a balance between them. And accept.

Allegra is torn between the love of life that Joy brings to her world, and the structure, and history and discipline Matilde urges her to follow. The book makes it clear early on that the death of Allegra’s mother, Belinda, weighs heavily between the three adults in Allegra’s life, even though Allegra doesn’t understand what actually happened.

Joy grabs life and lives it to the fullest. She embraces good and bad emotions, she helps women who are trying to leave domestic violence situations and if she is in a room I think all eyes would be on her. I also think she’s trying very hard to fill a hole inside that can’t quite be filled no matter what she does. But she’s doing good for her community, and the people who need it, and Allegra and I would not be able to resist someone like her.

Allegra doesn’t understand Matilde, or how being in Auschwitz formed the woman she is. She’s simply too young, and looks to her father to explain how Matilde’s relationships after the war were affected… and while I thought this worked to an extent, I also thought this was a missed opportunity.

There’s a wealth of things to get into here, that would have helped Allegra and readers understand Matilde better. Matilde and Allegra’s relationship was the far more interesting one, simply because of the potential in it, though it was never explored. Matilde loves her family and does everything for them — from working herself to exhaustion while a strike is on, and enduring women outside her house protesting her work — all for Allegra, and bills and making sure there’s money and food on the table. Matilde isn’t hard and disciplined because that’s who she is — it’s the only way she knows how to survive the world.

Allegra doesn’t understand that. At her age, she simply can’t, and for all the charm that comes with what is in this book, my heart ached for Matilde and the unexplored in  her storyline with Allegra, and I’m not certain Allegra understood everything about Matilde.

Which brings me to Rick

Her father, Rick, has a minimal presence in this book, IMO. He is there to explain her grandmothers to her, and what the world is like when Allegra realises Joy was hurt defending her best friend from her abusive father.

While I understand his purpose as translator of sorts, I did wish he had more of a presence in Allegra’s life, beyond the conduit to help her understand her grandmothers.

And finally, Allegra

Daniel has managed to give Allegra a combination of innocent and astute voice, one that will make your heart hurt for her desire to stand with her friend against bullies, or the choice she has to make between Joy and Allegra to stand with her for her confirmation.

Daniel weaves her coming of age story against events adult readers will recognise, but its Allegra’s voice that will make them resonate with readers more.

The ending is where the turmoil within Allegra comes to the fore, forcing a confrontation between her and her grandmothers and the choices they’ve made. I burst into tears at the end, which will tell you how good it is, but, I still wished there had been more of this emotional baggage coming out through the book, rather than reserved for the end — I’m all for spreading the good crying through a book!

Allegra in Three Parts is a glorious read, that essentially left me wanting more.

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