The Blurb On The Back:
Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, fulfilling her mother’s dying wish that she should get to know her father. With the help of her mother’s journal, Lina uncovers a magical world of secret romance, art and hidden bakeries. People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Just before 16-year-old Lina Emerson’s mum died from cancer, she told Lina about her friend Howard who she met during a year spent studying photography in Italy 17 years earlier, and asked her to go and live with him in Italy. It’s only after her mother died that Lina learned from her grandmother than Howard is her father – a man who’s never seen fit to be part of her life. Despite this on finishing her sophomore year, Lina travels to Florence where she discovers that Howard is a six foot five giant from South Carolina who works as a caretaker to the American service cemetery and World War II memorial, which means living on the site.
While Lina’s trying to get her head around her new situation, she’s given a journal that her mum wrote during her year in Italy – a journal that Lina realises contains all the details of her relationship with Howard. With the help of Lorenzo (her cute half Italian, half American neighbour who introduces her to the local teenagers, including the incredibly hot Thomas), she decides to retrace her mother’s experiences but is she really prepared for the secrets she’ll uncover or her growing attraction to Lorenzo?
Jenna Evans Welch’s debut YA romance is a sweet and snappy read with good pacing, some smart one-liners and an interesting main character, which helps to overcome a contrived plot, a mandatory YA love triangle that is only ever going to go one way and an abrupt ending that involves Lina effectively dropping her best friend without any explanation.
Lina is a strongly written character – I believed in the grief and confusion she’s feeling as a result of her mother’s death and also in how she’s thrown by being left in an unfamiliar country with a man who’s basically a stranger to her. The introduction of her mum’s journal is an artificial device (and you have to wonder why Lina didn’t save herself a lot of heartache by just reading the journal all the way through at the start) but that aside the voice is good and I liked the parallel between Lina’s own journey and her mother’s.
Also good is Lina’s friendship with Addie who’s emotionally supportive and serves as her cheerleader, which made the ending particularly strange given that Lina makes her decision to stay in Florence despite knowing that Addie’s already got permission from her parents for Lina to live with her family – especially as Welch doesn’t even show Lina breaking the news to her supposed best friend, instead focusing on her new life.
Lorenzo is a likeable love interest and at least their relationship is allowed to develop and breathe so you can understand why they’re attracted to each other on an emotional level as well as a physical one. Thomas is a bit of a caricature – not least because the love triangle is never in doubt – but I did like the European student contingent as Welch gives them sharp dialogue amid the rich kid problems.
The book is weak on a key revelation, which involves introducing a two-dimensional character whose motivation and behaviour doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the circumstances and the plot is a bit predictable overall. However, even though I’m not normally a YA romance fan I did enjoy reading this and I think that anyone who is into YA romance will get a lot more from it.
Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.