When Violet discovers an uncanny resemblance to a girl in a portrait painted in the 1700s, she’s intrigued. She’s never felt like her dark looks fit in with her Norse family’s, and she wonders if the key to her ancestry is the painting. When she disovers the painting resides in a castle in Italy, she manages to convince her mom to send her there for the summer. At a boarding school with a summer program focusing on Italian food, language, and art history, Violet makes friends, has adventures, and maybe falls in love with the charming but maddening Luca.
Lauren Henderson’s Flirting in Italian has an interesting enough premise that should have carried the novel through to is conclusion with little problem. There’s enough of a market out there for wanderlust stories like this one, and adding in the mystery of Violet’s ancestry along with a healthy dose of cute, flirtatious Italian boys should make this a frothy read perfect for summer. Unfortunately, this one falls short in almost every conceivable way.
To start with, nothing about the novel ever completely gels. It takes much too long for Violet to develop as a character (and some readers will be so over her waffling about Luca, about her possible ancestry, and about pretty much every decision she’s made they won’t even care). The rest of the girls in the summer program are virtually indistinguishable from one another despite being from different places and of different ethnicities. The boys are flirtatious, but that seems to be their only defining trait: they’re about as deep as a kiddie pool.
Adding insult to serious injury is the fact that the book starts out charming and somehow manages to lose its mojo about a third of the way through. As Violet becomes more ensconced in Italian life, the book takes on a rambling, aimless tone and doesn’t seem to ever allow a story to unfold. It ends up being quite boring, with not enough happening until the last minute (and then the events that occur stretch credulity).
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is its completely unnecessary cliffhanger ending. If ever there were a case for a standalone novel, this is it. For a book that’s over 300 pages, there was no reason to continue Violet’s story. Readers who were holding out for some answers to Violet’s parentage are going to be sorely disappointed–or downright irritated, as this reader was. While it might hold some appeal for younger readers looking for a slightly silly summer romance, it’s not going to work for most savvy YA readers.
Flirting in Italian is out now, but I’d say it’s okay to skip it.
Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson. Random House Children’s Books: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.