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An Italian Adventure: It will all make (less) sense when you grow up (The Italian Saga Book 1) Kindle Edition
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While I went in with some knowledge of reviews and receptions, I tried not to paint an opinion of it beforehand.
Well, having finished it, I have one.
Let me clarify: there are things I liked and didn’t like. In this tale of youthful innocence and experience clashing in late 80s Italy, protagonist Leda comes to terms with coming to the edge of not being a kid anymore. It’s a full-motion combo of identity, relationships, heartbreak, and the passage of time; she’s twisted in and out of her feelings, both for herself and for others. What all this did for me, though, was leave a lukewarm impression. I should note that it isn’t an extremely long read, but there’s still quite a bit to remark upon.
I’ll start with the pros:
A—Italy. It took a little while to really become pronounced, but the author had a deft hand at enveloping the story in its background. From the towns, the media, the activities, and especially the landscapes, I felt like I had a glimpse into true Italian life. To say it was the 1980s, it nonetheless looked, sounded, and came across as authentic.
B—Tone. The moods are appropriate throughout, and that never really changes. I’m glad for the lack of dissonance, since it meant scenes with gravity actually had them and lighter moments were light—all’s right the world there.
C—Special shout-out to the revelation of *SPOILER ALERT just in case* the separation. I sat there thinking, “Man, I wouldn’t want to be married to this man. I’d rather be single, regardless of how taboo that would’ve been.” And there it was! Starry decided to follow her desires in spite of him putting her down, in spite of the expectations of her community.
Then there are the cons.
The biggest thing that gets me about this book is the language. I’m going to separate this into bits in order to not make a huge, ugly wall of text.
A—Style. The speaker, our hero Leda in some future time, seems to not have a consistent voice. One minute she’s speaking as though she were the smartest kid in the country, but next she’s using language a child would use with little clue of what’s really going on (one example: the use of “heck” and “darn” juxtaposed with deeper musings of how the world works and what her true feelings were, since she apparently could not understand them as a child, was jarring). It kind of comes across as the speaker dipping back into her childhood consciousness, but it jumps back and forth with no flow. I was reminded of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though in the earliest chapters of that book, Stephen always sounded like a child.
B—Information. There are instances where the reader simply isn’t told things. Some Italian words get explained, some don’t (and I personally don’t need them explained—context does most of the illuminating). Doggy and Fuzzer have apparently been around the whole time, but I’m not told about them until nearly at and after the halfway mark, respectively. Starry and Dad’s constant fights weren’t constant. She had a computer in Ch. 28 out of nowhere.
Then I’m hit with information I don’t need. Many sections and chapters likewise start off by telling me what happened in the last, which I don’t need reiterated. Furthermore, many of the chapters end with light cliffhangers, saying things like “little did I know what would happen next/how my life was going to change.” Erased any possibility of surprise, especially when what followed wasn’t particularly interesting or life-changing.
C—Relation. Most of Leda’s relationships in the book are tense, but they were also at times not clear-cut. Why does she “venerate” Viola when she’s awful to her? Leda assures me that she does for no particular reason. Nico’s development into becoming her friend is skipped over, which was also odd, considering he’s one of the biggest influences on her. Why does her circle of friends change by the season when everyone’s in the same town? Things like this.
D—Grammar. I know I don’t speak for everyone when I say grammar and syntax can have an effect on entertainment value, and that held true for me. I found spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar issues throughout the book, alongside weird choices in language; they slowed me down.
(I also kind of laughed when I saw Fist of the North instead of Fist of the North Star.)
E—Relevance. Some of the things occurring in this book…did they need to? Doggy serves to give the group a name, but Viola’s howling could’ve done that. Nico “dying” happens after Peo flies off the hill and didn’t really change anything. The *SPOILER ALERT and TRIGGER WARNING, just in case* sexual assault served no purpose in the confines of this book, besides I guess making me uncomfortable.
I think this all boils down to Leda herself, with whom I grew less interested as the book went on. She definitely comes across as one of those self-assured kids becoming less so as she realizes things aren’t as black and white as once believed. The problem for me what that she also gave me the air of a know-it-all who couldn’t believe she could be wrong unless it hit her hard. Yes, her parents are quite flawed and her sister near unbearable, but seeing the story through her eyes is one part deep perception and one part great immaturity. Her hang-ups about being a girl are apparently deep-rooted, but how many times do I have to hear her muse, Being a girl is prim and gross and I’m too “ugly” and rough to be a girl before I stop caring?
What should I expect from a precocious nine- to eleven-year-old, really?
Ultimately I couldn’t really root for her. It isn’t her flawed nature that made this tough for me (that’s the case for any real person); it’s the presentation of contrivances that make her feelings about being a girl negative, coupled with her arrogance/woeful naïveté, that were not for me. I'm going to declare this a "lukewarm feelings about it" rating.
I’ve finished the book all the same. Here I leave this review. I hope it either encourages discussion or informs future readers.
Gaia captures the flavor of Italy and more important the flavor and quintessence of childhood in this immensely readable book. She has us from the first words – ‘On that early afternoon in the April of 1988, I had no idea that I was finally about to shed some light on the mystery of sex. Peo, Flavio, and I spilled out of our elementary school with the rest of the kids. We jumped on our bikes and headed toward Catechism, which we had to endure on every Tuesday to maintain our good-standing position in Jesus’ fastidious notebook of sins. I would have never suspected that I was about to add to it big time. The sky was a promise of the summer to come, and the blackbirds celebrated it from the poplar and cypress trees surrounding the fields. I made a sharp left, wrinkling my nose at the stench of the new road: a black, sticky, umbilical cord that connected the new church in the middle of a cornfield to the rest of Arese. Our small town had originated a millennium ago as pile-dwellings overlooking swampy planes and was now a suburbanite heaven, close to Milan yet in the middle of the Groane Park. I came to a full stop in front of the church, and Flavio and Peo skidded beside me. We were sworn brothers, always together. Teachers and classmates called us The Trio, but we really were the better version of the A-Team. Flavio was Hannibal, poised, charming, in charge. Peo was Mr. T, muscular and gruff. Because my teen sister beat the heck out of me I feared no pain, which had gained me my Howling-Mad-Murdock nickname.’
So we are off on a highflying adventure that restores memories that are too often tucked away in dreams to be dealt with later. ‘What was it like growing up in Italy in the 1980s? Leda is a ten-year-old tomboy and a bookworm. Hanging out with the guys has never been a problem, until shady Nico shows up…Nico moved north from Sicily and is angry and aggressive, unsettling and unsettled. When fate forces the two together, fearless Leda won’t let the bully get his way, which sparks in Nico an unexpected gratitude. The unusual friendship between the two develops in moving ways as they face basement monsters, divorcing parents, school drama, and even a dirty magazine, which leaves more questions than answers…’
Ah the celebration o fit all – spilled out over the Italian countryside and Sardinia and the powerfully beautiful Alps. Read for the joy of it – and for some very subtle encouragement about coping and secrets and growing into wise adults. Grady Harp, December 17
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by Gaia B Amman
Middle Grade , Teens & YA
Pub Date 01 Nov...Read more
Leda is a tomboy on the cusp of becoming a young woman.Read more