A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Love & Gelato is a combination romance and coming-of-age novel set in and around Florence, Italy. Though the book's a light, fun read, it deals with a teen, Lina, who has lost her mother to cancer and is trying to figure out who her real father is. When she moves to Italy from Seattle, Lina doesn't even know the man she's sent to live with. Within a few weeks, she has made friends, had romantic ups and downs, and has read her mom's most intimate secrets from her time in Florence. The story is fast-paced and deals in a bit of wish fulfillment (characters live in Tuscan villas, throw big parties, and so on). There's no swearing and very little smoking, drinking, and violence in the book. Characters kiss but only a few times, and it isn't sexually charged. Most of the characters are good, supportive people.
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What's the story?
When 17-year-old Lina loses her mom to cancer, she honors her mom's dying wish that she spend a summer, and maybe longer, in Tuscany. Lina travels halfway around the world to meet and stay with her mother's friend, Howard, who is the caretaker of an American WWII cemetery just outside Florence. The catch? Howard may or may not be her father. As LOVE & GELATO unfolds, Lina reads a journal her mother kept during her time Florence. She sees her mother in a new light, reading about her excitement over studying in Italy, making new friends, falling in love, enduring heartbreak, and making life-changing decisions. As Lina gets to know her mom better, she must deal with the grief welling up inside her. Lina's own romantic life and choices are central to the story, as her mom's journal serves as motherly advice and a cautionary tale.
Is it any good?
This light, fun, fast-paced romance is a charmer. While still processing her grief over her mother's death, Lina Emerson is sent to Italy to live with an old friend of her mother's for the summer. In her first few weeks in Tuscany, she learns a lot about herself, her mother, and love. Author Jenna Evans Welch has a good ear for teen dialogue, and it's easy to fall into Lina's relationships and feelings. When Lina is handed her mother's journal from her time as a student in Florence, the story picks up. The reader gets to know Lina's mom's backstory as Lina herself is learning it. It tugs at the heart watching her slowly feel the depth of her sadness over her mom's death.
The mystery over who Lina's real father is is well written and adds a suspenseful element to the book. Lina's romantic struggles are cute and not too intense or heavy. In fact, the characters and romantic relationships could have had more depth and explanation. It's hard to believe that so much can happen to a person in a couple of weeks, but sometimes it's fun to suspend disbelief and go with it. Love & Gelato is a good choice for teens who like escapist romance but not the super-sexual stuff. Tuscany, and Florence in particular, provide a beautiful landscape for the action.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "insta love," in which two characters fall deeply for each other immediately -- a common thing in YA books and movies. Do you think this really happens, or is it an easy storytelling device? Do you think it sets up unrealistic relationship expectations?
Do you think going back and forth in time -- a frequently used plot device in modern novels -- adds tension or interest to the story? Does it play on how well you think you know characters when they're revealed in bits and pieces?
A journal figures prominently in this story. Do you keep a journal? Why, or why not? How would you feel if other people read it?
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