Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC received from publisher
Four girls. One magical, and possibly dangerous Italian summer. Family mysteries, ancient castles, long hot nights of dancing under the stars . . . and, of course, plenty of gorgeous Italian boys!
Tell Me More: Europe has always been a construction of dreams in my head. I have moments when I daydream about how I’ll be able to order a train ticket in perfect French at the Gare du Nord and make my way across the continent, meeting the most interesting people ever and having adventures I’ll remember forever. I can reinvent myself and be more, better than who I am now. Violet Routledge isn’t nearly as idealistic as I am about her home continent, but her personality and story are just as patchwork as the way I see Europe.
Quite honestly, this novel was a challenge to read, let alone like. The synopsis given on Goodreads and Amazon is far more shallow than the one found on my ARC, and it says nothing about the reason Violet ends up in Italy. Said reason is quite interesting: Violet discovers a painting of a young girl from the 1700s with whom she shares an uncanny resemblance, and her research leads her to Villa Barbiano with three other girls for the summer. I loved the mysterious premise, and I settled myself in for an enjoyable few hours of delving into Italian history. And that’s when the cover copy you see above kicked in with a vengeance.
The first 30 pages or so had me biting back frustrated exclamations over Violet’s attitude–I was a teenager once too, and I get how weird her mind must be. She was simultaneously judgmental and superficial, and I found myself connecting more with her mother. At the airport, Violet’s encounter with two loud and overdramatic American girls is an empty cliché. Violet comes off as more of a snob than the two rich girls, even as she laments her overly casual wardrobe. This scene foreshadow the uneven characterizations throughout the entire novel. None of the Italians are compelling, and much of the book is swallowed by the cattiness and backstabbing that goes on between Violet, Kendra, Paige, Kelly and Elisa (the daughter of Villa Barbiano’s owner).
There is hardly any substance to be plucked from this story. Violet is almost completely flat, so there isn’t much encouragement to root for her. The catalyst for her trip to Italy is forgotten in the midst of clubbing with cute Italian boys and learning about Italian “culture.” Many of the classes felt like they belonged in finishing schools, not in beautiful hillside villas, which confused me. And the romance? Actually laughable in its lack of depth and feeling. Any and all comparisons to Stephanie Perkins’ sweetly romantic Anna and the French Kiss end with the synopsis. Luca is not a boy any girl should be dreaming about, despite the kindness he shows towards his mother near the end of the novel. For a girl who claims to respect herself, Violet is all too eager to be swept away by Luca, even when he’s hateful and cruel. And even after having finished the novel, I was still at a loss to understand why either of them wanted the other.
But there’s still the mystery to redeem the book, you might be thinking. What could Violet have to do with a girl born in the 1700s in Italy? Along with plausible romance, it seems Flirting in Italian also left answers behind in its desire to tell the story of a fabulous Italian summer. The truth is hinted at in the last five pages, but it isn’t until you get to the very last paragraph that you realize that Lauren Henderson has led you straight into another year of waiting, because this book is the first in a series. I’ll be completely honest–this was the first time I’ve ever been genuinely angry at a novel. Most first-installments-in-a-series set up the arc of the series masterfully, poking the reader every once in a while with clues towards a problem that will be solved in a later book. This novel throws itself into the minutiae of Violet’s boy troubles and fights with the other girls without so much as leaving breadcrumbs towards the conclusion.
Let it never be said that I have problems with hot Italian boys. I am neither a killjoy nor a perfectionist. But when a writer leads me to their story with a complex premise, I expect to get that complex premise, and not the dizzingly shallow story Violet narrates for 300-odd pages. I thought I was going to find a beautiful and mysterious painting with a story worth knowing. Instead, I was left with the firm knowledge that this will be my first and last Henderson novel.
The Final Say: Need a break from intense, dramatic stories? Flirting in Italian might be the light fare you’re looking for, but don’t expect answers to questions you may have about the plot itself.
Born in London in 1966, Lauren Henderson read English at university and then worked as a journalist for – among other publications – the New Statesman, Marxism Today, the Observer and Lime Lizard, a much-mourned indie music magazine. Lauren now divides her time between Italy and London and, when not wine-tasting, writes full-time.