They’re wrong about Luke though. There’s no way I’m going to waste my time in Rome chasing after him. Not that I would chase after him. But I’m not going to waste my time wondering whether he likes me. Or whether he’s with some other girl. Or whether he’d be interested in me if he’s not. And I’m absolutely not going to think about what happened after Dad’s funeral.
(One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. P22.)
Italy won’t be the same without Dad. Milly has put her ambitions to sing on hold, to look after her family. Her mother is working overtime, big sister Elyse would like to move out … anywhere, with anybody who will take her, and little sister Leonie has secrets nobody has noticed. It will be hard to go to Italy – they cannot recreate the special things they did with Dad, but they have not figured out who they are without him. They’ve got to go. Aunt Alice is finally marrying Stefano, and Luke will be there. Luke, who Milly has not been in touch with since that incident after Dad’s funeral ….
The main themes are grief and self-discovery. Everybody in Milly’s family has suffered the same loss, but their relationship with Dad was different, the place they are at in their lives is different, so they experience grief in a different way. I loved how each person’s experience is gradually uncovered. This is a character-led plot. Italy represents a breathing space from life where they can work through their issues. It also represents a place of family support, and a place for those first adventures of young-adulthood …
When I wrote my first impression, I thought Leonie’s issues might shadow Milly’s. In the first chapters, Leonie comes across as someone with hidden vulnerabilities. In fact, Leonie’s grief affects her in a less complicated way than the other characters. Certainly, she misses Dad, but she has worked out where she wants to be in life and who she is in the moment. Milly is determined to protect her family, and would put her life on hold to protect them. Elyse and Mum have similar issues to each other: both are trying to walk away from the home which their old family was centred on.
Confession: I do not read romance. Since reading Wing Jones, I have a target of reading one novel with a contemporary setting every month. When One Italian Summer came up on Readers First, it seemed a good way to meet my target. I was, however, concerned it might turn into a kissathon. How wrong could I be??! As with Wing Jones, I finished the book feeling I have a whole section of fiction to explore. Milly likes Luke, she wants to date him, to kiss him … but in terms of plot, the issue is what Milly needs to come to terms with if she and Luke are to date. The focus is on family, and how individuals overcome grief.
Stainton is good at finding those quirky things about modern life we all relate to. Having a celebrity cookbook but turning to old favourite recipies. Downing our water before airport security. The novel is readable but well written. Two or three clever images hold the main ideas together. When Milly and Luke see a ruined building behind the façade of a completed one, Milly says she is like the ruin behind. Luke tells her she is repairing, that it is alright to take time to mend. I loved this as an image for the front we feel obliged to present to the rest of the world. The girls carry separate pots of Dad’s ashes, which represents their individual experiences of grief and letting go.
Strong characters, clever imagery and the perfect setting for the story. Once again, a novel with a contemporary setting has kept me turning the pages and reminded me to ignore preconceptions. Summer reading with a heart, and not a slushy one.
Hot Key Books
Page Count: 241
Official Publication Date: 04.05.2017