I first fell in love with Melina Marchetta's books upon reading Saving Francesca, an unforgettable coming-of-age story about finding oneself, falling in love with the most unexpected people, and dealing with life's curve balls when your support system gets ripped out from under you. After closing the final chapter of Francesca's adventure, I dashed to the store to purchase Marchetta's other young adult novels — Saving Francesca's sequel, The Piper's Son, the Printz Award-winning Jellicoe Road, the fantasy series that began with Finnikin of the Rock, and her debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi. I read them well into my adulthood, and I'll continue to do so. But I have to admit, I was pretty thrilled when I learned Melina Marchetta's new book, Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil, is an adult suspense novel — her first foray outside the young adult genre.
The novel opens as Bish Ortley, a suspended London police officer, receives word that his daughter's bus has been bombed during a student trip to France. He rushes across the Channel, and discovers that the suspect has already been identified: Police believe the bomber to be a 17-year-old student on the trip — a Muslim girl who happens to be the daughter of a convicted terrorist. Bish doesn't buy it, and as he searches for the missing suspect, he begins to unravel the events of that tragic day. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil brilliantly captures the confusion of father-daughter relationships, the double-edged sword of redemption, and the destructive societal fear of "The Other." Alternating between dozens of perspectives, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a wide-lens view of how one act of violence can reverberate for years and years in countless different lives and countless different places.
I spoke with Melina Marchetta about Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil, the possibility of a Saving Francesca sequel, and more. Here are five things I learned:
1. This Novel Challenged Her In A Different Way Than Her Young Adult Books
Melina Marchetta admits this novel — which switches between dozens of POVs — was immensely challenging to write, but she's quick to point out that her background in YA made it possible for her to tackle such an ambitious project.
"I’m not saying this was an easy novel to write, but Jellicoe Road was structurally the most difficult, and The Lumatere Chronicles were my most ambitious," Marchetta tells Bustle. "I couldn’t have written this novel without having written them."
For Marchetta, there's not much of a difference between writing YA and adult novels. "All my YA novels feature a supporting cast of adult characters who become part of a teenager’s journey," she says. "With Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil, I introduced a supporting cast of teenagers who become part of an adult’s journey. I think I’ll always write multi-generational stories, regardless of genre."
2. She Didn't Make A Conscious Decision To Write An 'Adult' Novel
She says that genre and audience are never "a conscious decision" during the planning stages. Instead, she begins with a character and lets the story take over. In this case, she immediately envisioned Bish Ortley, a 50-year-old Egyptian-British cop on a mission to discover the truth. "In a way, [Bish's] age dictated that Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil be an adult novel," she says.
3. The Novel Is A Criticism Of The Treatment Of Minority Groups Throughout History
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is not shy in its criticisms of Islamophobia. The 17-year-old suspect in the bombing is Muslim, and her family fell apart after her grandfather and mother committed an act of terrorism years earlier. Authorities are quick to judge the teenager because of her family sins — and because of her religion.
Marchetta began writing the novel in 2013 — before Charlie Hedbo happened, before Brexit was a thing. She says that although the work is "definitely" critical of Islamophobia, it's also a criticism of "the treatment of minority groups at different periods in history."
"Every generation has someone to hate or persecute," she says, adding that her own grandfather was interned in Australia during World War II because he was an Italian-born male.
She says that editing the novel over the last 18 months was a "sobering experience."
"Nothing compares to what the victims of these worldwide terror attacks and their families have gone through," she says. "To be safely tapping away a story in your sunroom on the other side of the world seemed an insult. I made sure I kept to the story I wanted to write. It’s about family and community and ignorance and what binds us."
4. She's Not Finished With Bish Ortley Yet
Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil ends on a happy note for Bish — but that doesn't mean his story is over. "I’d love to write another novel about him, because I don’t think I’m finished with Bish and the people in his life," Marchetta admits. "The deal I make with myself when it comes to sequels or companion novels is that my characters have to come with a story as powerful as the first."
5. On That Note — There May Be Another Saving Francesca Sequel In The Future
Saving Francesca fans, I have some good news: Melina Marchetta says she's just handed in the first draft of the screenplay. (A movie adaptation of the novel has been in the works for several years). She also admits that she hasn't completely ruled out the idea of another sequel to the book — though it probably wouldn't be young adult. (If you recall, the first sequel – The Piper's Son — came out in 2010, seven years after the original novel was released.)
"I really want to write Jimmy Hailler’s story from Saving Francesca, but of course it wouldn’t be YA because those characters would be in their mid-twenties now," she tells Bustle. "I was thinking of him extensively a couple of years ago, but Bish Ortley jumped the queue, and I wasn’t going to send away a character with such a rich story to tell me."