Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: 'Flirting in Italian' by Lauren Henderson

I’m mesmerized by the views... like a whole series of postcards brought to life.

Violet Routledge is shocked when she stumbles upon an 18th century painting of an Italian girl who looks exactly like her. Determined to discover the possible family connection, Violet convinces her mother to send her to a summer study course in Tuscany, close to the area where the portrait was painted. Violet, along with three other girls, quickly falls under the spell of the Tuscan countryside and, more importantly, the handsome and charming Italian boys. But when one particular boy with ties to the painting – the gorgeous, yet confusing, Luca - takes an interest in Violet and strange things start happening to her, she begins to wonder if the mystery is worth solving.

I picked up Flirting in Italian during my continued quest to find the perfect Anna and the French Kiss read alike. A YA novel with such a happy, brightly colored cover (it features a purple Vespa!) and a story set in the countryside surrounding Florence seems like the perfect fit. Unfortunately, what started as a charming chick lit novel quickly devolved into a poorly balanced mash-up of contemporary romance and mystery.

In Flirting in Italian, Henderson demonstrates a pleasing, easy to read writing style. She seamlessly moves between sweeping descriptions of the Italian countryside and silly conversations between teenage girls, Italian dialogue and English slang. Even as I was becoming more and more frustrated with the story, I was being pulled further into Henderson’s writing. Unfortunately, even a pleasing writing style wasn’t enough to save the jumbled mess of plot. I have read a few chick lit mysteries and enjoyed them, but this felt more like Henderson was writing two different stories – a mystery and a contemporary romance. The two elements never seemed to blend, resulting in an uneven story.

Flirting in Italian also lacks fully developed characters. Most of the secondary characters were caricatures, either of happy-go-lucky Italians or American teenage girls. I found it especially difficult to sympathize with Violet. She was incredibly self-absorbed and inconsistent, more so than a normal teenage protagonist. In one breath she loves her mother, yet in the next she’s ashamed of her antics. In one thought she is grateful for her friendship with the other girls in the course, yet in the next she is second-guessing their motives. Her relationship with Luca is even more fraught with these roller coaster emotions. And, although Luca is described as physically beautiful, his personality was so sneering and snobby that I couldn’t even understand why any teenage girl would want to be around him.

One thing I was most looking forward to with this novel, was descriptions of Florence and its many attractions. While Henderson does a wonderful job discussing Italian culture and describing the countryside surrounding Florence in vivid detail, the city itself is mostly neglected. These girls are supposed to be in Italy to study, yet they seem to spend all their time flirting and their only visit to Florence is spent clubbing and eating pizza. Florence is one of my favorite cities to visit, and the lack of time spent in the city was disappointing.

This book’s final weak point was the ending. I was not aware that it was the first book in a series until near the end of the story - a huge pet peeve of mine. The ending was abrupt and almost nothing was resolved, leaving questions unanswered and one plotline at a, frankly, uncomfortable and creepy point. The end of the book was so completely unexpected and unsatisfying that it destroyed any good will I might have felt toward the novel.

All told, Flirting in Italian was a disappointing read, riff with problems. It certainly wasn’t the sweet, happy Anna and the French Kiss read alike I had hoped, and I don’t feel particularly compelled to pick up the sequel.

Book Source: Local Library
Reviewer: Kimberly

Recommended Ages: 14+ for intense amounts of boy craziness

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