Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Elena and Lila are girls growing up in Naples, Italy, in the 1950s.  Both come from poor families, and both are excellent students.  Clearly, Lila is more gifted, but her formal education ends with elementary school, while Elena continues on through middle school and high school.  Still, Elena feels inferior to Lila in both appearance and intelligence.  She has a few minor self-esteem breakthroughs, especially when she spends a summer helping out at a B&B on the island of Ischia.  However, that adventure ends badly, through no fault of her own.  She suffers through the usual adolescent angst, ignoring the boy she likes and choosing the boy who adores her.  Lila, on the other hand, has bigger problems.  A wealthy but unpleasant young man pursues her, but she fends him off, despite pressure from her parents to accept him.  There’s only one way out of this predicament, and that is to find another wealthy boy who is more tolerable.  Since Elena is a first-person narrator, I assumed that the brilliant friend was Lila, but Elena proves herself to be no slouch academically and more savvy about what’s important, although Lila seems to be making the best of a very unfortunate situation.  I did not particularly enjoy this book, and so I have mixed feelings about reading the other three books in the series.  On the one hand, I’m not wild about attempting to reacquaint myself with a huge cast of characters, although the index at the beginning does help.  On the other hand, I’m curious about what happens to the relationship between these two girls whose lives are sharply diverging as they approach adulthood.

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