Flirting in Italian is the start of a new series by UK author Lauren Henderson. Henderson also wrote the Scarlett Wakefield series, which I reviewed here and here. Though set in a different country (Italy vs. England), Flirting in Italian has a very similar feel to the Scarlett Wakefield books. So similar that I am certain that had I started Flirting in Italian without knowing the author, I would easily have been able to name her. This is not a criticism - I enjoyed the Scarlett Wakefield books thoroughly, and found Flirting in Italian equally pleasing. But the strength of Henderson's voice makes it a bit difficult to distinguish between Scarlett and Violet (note similarity of names), despite differences in the two girls' situations.
Anyway, Flirting in Italian is about Violet Routledge, a teen from London who signs up for an eight week summer program at the Villa Barbiano in Tuscany. Though the program is ostensibly to help Violet with her University applications, Violet's real reason for choosing this particular program is the Villa Barbiano's proximity to the Castello di Vesperi. The Castello di Vesperi is linked to a late 18th century painting of a woman who looks remarkably like Violet (who has no resemblance to either of her parents). Violet wants to learn about the unknown woman in the portrait, and find out whether she shares some secret connection to Violet. The fact that Violet will be able to flirt with handsome Italian guys while she's there (including the young scion of the Castello di Vesperi), well, that's an added bonus.
Flirting in Italian is part mystery (as Violet finds her life in danger) and part teen romance, with the faintest hints of the supernatural. It does take a while for the plot to really get going - there's quite a bit of description of the villa and the other girls sharing Violet's course, etc. There are digressions regarding "the Swimsuit Beauty Parade" (and body image insecurities to which many teen girls will relate), and the different flirting styles of Italian vs. British and American males. But I still found the book to move along quickly, thanks to Henderson's breezy style, a mix of dramatic teen intensity and apt description. For example:
"I bite my lip. I don't know anything about the portrait. I can't even buy a postcard of it. So how am I ever going to find out who the girl in the paining is? I have to discover why on earth a girl who lived in the late eighteenth century -- in Italy! -- looks so like me she could be my twin sister." (Page 4)
"I fumble in my bag for my sunglasses, holding up the people behind me. Warm, humid air wraps itself around me insistently, demanding that I unzip my jacket, pull off my cotton sweater, bare my arms and neck to the blazing mid-afternoon sunshine. By the time I'm down the wobbly metal stairs, by the time my feet touch Italian soil, I've wrestled off the outer layers I was wearing in the air-conditioned plane. Everyone else is going the same, wriggling and writhing as they cross the tarmac, shrugging off jackets, stuffing them into carry-on cases, older English men and women put on on the straw Panama hats and ribboned raffia boaters they've brought to protect their white skin from the scorching Mediterranean sun." (Page 31-32)
The present tense viewpoint helps keep things moving quickly, too, with various chapter-ending cliffhangers.
I recommend Flirting in Italian for teenage girls and adult women who enjoy a mix of mystery and romance (there is a fair bit of kissing, and some drinking). Because of the way the romantic and interpersonal elements (rivalries between the girls, etc.) dominate the mystery, I do think that this is more of a book for girls than for boys. It would make a nice next book following the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, with slightly more mature content.
One warning - as with the Scarlett Wakefield books, part of the plot wraps up in this book, but other threads are left for the not-yet-released sequel,Kissing in Italian. Those who demand instant gratification would be best served by waiting until the next book comes out (and perhaps the one after that - I don't know). But as for me, I'll enjoy looking forward to Kissing in Italian. The book, that is.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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