One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton is one of those books that grabs you in unexpected ways. I thought it would be a nice, summery, quick read, and while I knew it deals with loss, I thought that would probably be a secondary thing to the love story. What I got was so much more than that, and I LOVED it for it.
It’s been a year since Milly, Elyse and Leonie’s dad died, and a year since their last trip to Rome. Summer’s here again, and once again they are heading with their mum to Italy – but what’s it going to be like going without Dad? Rome still holds its familiar charms – the sun is still as warm, the gelato as delicious, the people as welcoming. But nothing is quite as it once was …
With grief still raw for all of them, Milly is facing the additional awfulness of having to see Luke again – gorgeous, gorgeous Luke, who she had a fling with last year, and who she made a total fool of herself with – or so she thinks. What’s going to happen this time? What’s more, things between Milly, her sisters and their mum are rocky – Leonie is being tempestuous and unpredictable, Elyse is caught up with her new boyfriend, and Milly feels like she just doesn’t know how she fits in any more.
Over one Italian summer, can Milly find a way back to the life she once had?
One Italian Summer is, on the surface, a love story. Milly’s had a crush on Luke for years, but she’s convinced she’s nothing more than a friend/potential fling for him, especially after what happened a year ago. Is she wrong? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out – no spoilers here! But on a deeper level, the book is about coming to terms with losing someone important to you – Milly’s dad has died, and no-one in the family is particularly dealing with it well. The grief suffuses every page of the book – it feels real and painful, and I knew from the first page that I was going to cry reading it at some point. I’m actually surprised I lasted to page 213 to be honest! At the same time, Milly’s sisters, Elyse and Leonie, are finding their own paths through life and this terrible loss, and it serves to illustrate the fact that everyone has their own way of dealing with events.
The relationships between the three sisters and with their mum was wonderful. Again, it felt real throughout the book, and I especially loved the way Elyse and Milly reacted to Leonie’s big secret. It was clear that however much they grew up, they’d always be there for each other – probably poking fun and embarrassing each other, but there all the same. I also loved the extended family members, their preparations for the wedding and how they knew their family so well, they knew exactly how to help them.
The setting was glorious. I could imagine myself sitting in the restaurant, sipping a glass of wine and just taking in the beauty around me. Having been to Rome ten years ago (and how is it ten years?!), I also appreciated the mentions of the landmarks. In fact, this book spoke to me on a number of levels. I definitely had a moment of ‘there but for the grace of god’, when it became clear how their dad had died, because that could so easily have been me at 14. It could be me at 37, and I’m not sure I’d cope with it any better now!
What I’m saying here is that you need to read One Italian Summer. In my opinion, it’s Keris’ best book so far. I was fully engaged throughout, and I sobbed like a baby towards the end, to the extent that I could barely see what I was reading through the tears. The love story is sweet and realistic, and I loved how sex was something the sisters actually discussed, because sex positivity is definitely something we don’t see enough of in YA. But really, what I most loved about this book was its depiction of family. I highly recommend it!