by Niccolo Ammaniti
The Italian countryside, a small village of just five homes. Stifling hot summer days. A group of kids go off exploring on their bicycles, and one of them, nine-year-old Michele, makes an unexpected discovery in an abandoned house. A monstrous secret he holds back from his friends, but realizing something needs to be done, he tries to tell his busy father but keeps getting brushed off. Then he tries to handle it himself. Making up scenarios in his head, trying to figure things out, not seeming to recognize the gravity of the situation. When he finally understands that things are closer to home than he\’d realized, it\’s really too late to fix things, and his attempts to save the situation only make things worse.
I can\’t really say what it is without giving the story away, and the surprise of it made this a riveting read for me. This book also has horrible things going on, but very different from the last book I read. We see everything through the filter of Michele\’s eyes and for a long time he does not seem to recognize what is really going on. His days are full of negotiations with friends and sometimes-enemies, dealing with his little sister, trying to get his father\’s attention, avoid his mother\’s anger (she naturally gets upset when he wanders off all day). The secret in the empty house is at first just a peripheral curiosity, but becomes a looming worry as the story progresses, until it is too big a thing to solve. Ammaniti knows how to tell a story- the childrens\’ teasing and squabbles, jokes and games, concerns and so forth are so accurate to what kids are really like- plus quite funny at times. The sense of place, rolling countryside full of wheat fields, oppressive summer heat, flavor of Italian idioms and culture, even the odd viewpoint they have of Americans (I puzzled for a very long time over what the \”little wash-bears\” might be) were vivid. It has a terribly tragic ending, but was a good read nonetheless.
Rating: 3/5 200 pages, 2001