A fun, poignant story about eight college students’ shared experience in Italy and how their youthful idealism and indiscretions affect their adulthoods.
Mencini’s debut novel starts in the present day with the middle-aged Bella Rossini receiving an invitation to reunite with people from her past—including a man who broke her heart. As a result, she’s forced to confront the choices she made after their relationship failed. The story then rewinds 30 years to a night that a rebellious Bella spends in jail. Her mother, concerned that Bella is mixing with the wrong crowd, enrolls her in a summer class in Italy. There she meets a cast of characters who leave an indelible mark on her life, including beautiful twins Karen and Meghan; smooth-talking Rune; bookworm Lee; sweet but insecure Hope; attractive athlete Philip; and Stillman, an outgoing Southerner with a haunted past. A classic summer-abroad tale of lust, love and adventure unfolds, but Mencini manages to steer clear of clichés. She tells the story primarily from Bella’s perspective, with other characters occasionally taking the helm to offer tidbits about their own pasts. Eventually, the summer comes to an end and the students go off to live their lives—realities filled with moments of excitement, disappointment and loss. Three decades later, they reunite in Italy to reacquaint themselves with each other and face some ugly truths. Overall, the story is often engaging, if sometimes a little unrealistic. The novel can, at times, provide too much detail in its descriptions, as when an adult Lee finishes a meal: “After enjoying his pasta dinner and responsibly drinking only one glass of wine, he drove home to finish the bottle there.” However, Mencini also provides beautiful prose that brings settings to life: “[T]he morning sun yielded to a landscape vista dotted with hilltop villas, vineyards, and olive groves. Gold, orange, pink, and dusty greens unfolded in a rolling patchwork.”
An intriguing tale about how people can affect one another long after they part ways.