Well, not me. But in these two books Italy features strongly. And I have a friend visiting Italy now. Is she sending me some signal through these books? Hmm, I say.
I liked the first book until the end, which puts me in a quandary. I don’t like reviews that give away too much information. I want to read the minimum I need to get me interested in the book and not a sentence more. That said, the important thing for me to convey, the flaw in the book, is in the ending. Hmm, again.
So, here’s an analogy. Suppose you were reading a book about a kid struggling with drug abuse, and you like these sorts of books anyway. As you read, you think that the author is handling the drug abuse issue very well, but you know from the ominous tone that something bad is going to happen to this kid. Given the drug abuse, you suspect an overdose is coming up. You are in the last, say, twenty pages in the book and he come to a crisis point with his addiction, but seems to pass it unharmed. Then he hikes into the woods, is bitten by a rattlesnake, and dies.
You can say, "Wow. I didn’t expect that ending!" or you can say, "What was the drug addiction story leading up to anyway? I feel cheated!" Or maybe a little of both.
Friends of the Heart, by Kate Banks, is NOT about drug abuse. Let me make that clear. But the build-up of tension in the story seems to go nowhere in a way that is both realistic (when were all of your problems taken care of cleanly?) and unsettling (but this is a book, and I want the proper ending).
Lucrezia has been friends with Ollie since they were babies. They are friends of the heart, or amici del cuore if you prefer. They lived together in Rome until Ollie had to move away. Now they visit each other when they can, with their long visit being in the summer at Lucrezia’s grandparents’ house by the sea. Lucrezia is thirteen this year and wonders how her longtime friendship with a boy will change. They are joined on their adventures by the sea by a summer resident they have always known, Anna Maria, and a fourteen-year-old boy, Martin, staying with his grandparents on the shore for the first time. With the world of Ollie and Lucrezia opening up to include these other two, tensions arise and things change for all of them.
I enjoyed the characters’ interactions and development. I really enjoyed the view into a Italian summer. I think the book was well written overall. The ending was not what I expected, and I don’t say that in a good way. However, it is a gentle read, and I may include it in my booktalk to the seventh graders. Certainly, there is nothing inappropriate in it.
Now, I’ll review a book 180 degrees away in tone from the first one, yet about travel in Italy and about a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s interesting that I read it following the first one, not knowing what it was about, exactly. I mean, the title is Four Things My Geeky-Jock-of-a-Best-Friend Must Do in Europe, so I had some idea, but I didn’t pick it deliberately.
Brady is going on a cruise in the Mediterranean with her mother as a kind of “not-mitzvah,” and has been left instructions of what do to by her best friend. Delia has written these instructions on Brady’s hand and arm so she cannot ignore them. She must write Delia about her adventures, must wear a bikini in public, and meet a cute Euro guy. But Brady has always been the shy one, and doesn’t know what to do without Delia. But following Delia’s instructions as much as possible, Brady comes out of her shell and has a great time.
There are a lot of contemporary references in the book which make it accessible. Brady reads Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging on the plane even though her mother says it is inappropriate (and Brady has a more than a little of that Georgia attitude throughout). At a party they give away LiveStrong-type bracelets. Most interesting to me, and what makes this an easy booktalk in this area, is the mention of the Nationals baseball team and Old Town Alexandria. I’m not surprised, given that the author, Jane Harrington lives in Alexandria, just outside of Washington D.C., but it is a little bonus for my enjoyment.
I liked this book unreservedly. It is fun, light, and entirely appropriate for all teens and adults.