A self-centered Italian boy, possibly narcissistic, who has never connected with anyone other than in an unhealthy attachment to his mother, attempts to escape for one week of solace but is forced into an unexpected pact with his mysterious and estranged stepsister. In less than one hundred fifty pages, Ammaniti reveals the two main characters’ inner struggles and causes us to care about them. I immediately wanted to read about a boy who fools his parents into believing that he’s going on a ski trip with the popular kids that his parents had dreamed of for him. Instead, he secludes himself in a basement storage room in his family’s Rome apartment building for a week. Kids, and adults, often fantasize about escaping their present circumstances for various reasons. What is this boy dealing with that drives him to hide away, deceiving his parents?
“… that the world outside your house is filled with competition, violence and suffocation.”
With minimal detail, the reader is made aware of the truth in a fourteen-year old’s heart and sees it unfold even as he discovers it. We see his defenses melt as he realizes who he is and what he desires, and we feel hope for him. I read the book in a well-spent afternoon, left with much to consider about recognizing and accepting one’s needs. Once learned, can he thrive and move forward?
Lorenzo and Olivia didn’t know each other well before winding up in such close quarters, dealing with the grave reality of each other’s secrets. Olivia shares memories of their brief interactions that Lorenzo was too young to process that bring understanding and closure to some of his most troublesome issues.
The hovering mother calls his mobile phone frequently, anxious to thank the ski-trip host’s mother for inviting him, but he cleverly foils her every time, having been to Cortina with his family and familiar with the environment she expects him to be enjoying. He is well-practiced at misguiding adults to perceive him as acceptable, disguising the thoughts and feelings that, following angry outbursts at school, had landed him on a therapist’s couch. He’s learned to pay lip service as necessary, at home, with teachers, and with the cool kids at school, quietly judging them all.
“I would pretend to be a normal kid with problems. It wouldn’t take much to trick him.”
For over a decade, Niccolò Ammaniti’s award-winning novels have done exceptionally well on the international bestseller market, and he is one of Italy’s treasures. He deals with timeless emotions and dark, raw truths that American readers who don’t demand blissful, happy endings all the time will also enjoy. Me and You is in the adult fiction section, but as a coming-of-age story akin to The Catcher in the Rye, it will likely appeal to teens.
Check the WRL catalog for Me and You.