Disclaimer: I know the author, Kristin Rae, personally, and in fact, really like her. This girl is funny and genuine and super smart! So, it comes as no surprise that I really loved her debut YA novel, Wish You Were Italian. I am half-Italian myself, though I've never been to Italy, so it was a great adventure to travel through Italy with Pippa and "see" the Coliseum and "visit" Pompeii.
If asked to describe Wish You Were Italian in a few words, I would say, "Fun, light-hearted, and a perfect beach/summer read!" Okay, so that was more than a few words, but did you really count? The characters in this book are down-to-earth, genuine, and perfectly flawed. When we first meet Pippa, she's begrudgingly going along with the life plans her parents have set for her. She doesn't want a future in the world of art; photography is her real passion. Once she gets to Italy, though, she starts to blossom, and the fun really begins!
Enter Darren, the cute, aspiring archaeologist, and Bruno, the smoldering Italian hottie whose family she winds up living with for most of her stay. These two guys keep her on her toes, and although there is a bit of a love triangle within the pages, it's not over-the-top and is actually pretty believable, given the situation of each character. While the love triangle angle (oh lord, here come flashbacks to Geometry!) does take up a good part of the story, we also meet other lovable characters, including Pippa's grandmother and Chiara, Bruno's sister, who makes me wish she were MY friend in real life.
I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention Pippa's best friend, Morgan, so I simply must dedicate a paragraph to her! Morgan gives Pippa a journal at the beginning of the trip, filled with tons of lists and tasks for Pippa to complete while adventuring in Italy, which becomes the catalyst for much of the change in Pippa's life afterward. I found the journal to be such a FUN idea that I plan on giving something similar to my boyfriend when he returns to India, his homeland. I was glad to see I'm not the only one who would treasure a smear of dirt from the soil of another country!
And speaking of another country - it's clear that Kristin Rae drew on ALL of her experiences when she herself traveled to Italy, because the setting practically drags you into the pages and makes you feel as if you are in Italy, alongside Pippa and the gang. I could smell the Italian sea, taste the creamy gelato, and hear the chatter of conversations in Italian around me. Warning: Don't read this book on an empty stomach!
Wish You Were Italian is a light-hearted read overall, but not without it's more sobering moments and not without some hard lessons for Pippa. While there is romance, there are other central themes for teens who may read this book, including being true to yourself and being honest with those around you. The ending was a satisfying mix of melancholy and sweetness, and left me smiling long after I turned the last page.
Congratulations to Kristin Rae on a thoroughly successful debut! Dear readers, add this book to your summer reading list. You won't regret it!