School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—After seeing an 18th-century painting of an Italian aristocrat who could pass for her twin, Violet Routledge convinces her mother to send her to a study course in Tuscany. She has to find out if there's any connection between her and the girl in the painting, and in the meantime, she can get to know some of those famously handsome Italian boys. Violet stays in a villa with three other students and the family of Elisa, the woman who runs the program. It's a beautiful home but her experience is tarnished a bit by the nastiness of Elisa's daughter. Violet is feeling a little uncertain of her decision to spend time abroad until she encounters dark, mysterious, and downright hot Luca. He just so happens to be the heir to a nearby castle that just so happens to be the castle featured in the painting that Violet is dying to know more about. Flirting stays true to its title: Henderson delivers lots of crushing and a bit of mystery with a dash of Italian 101. Although the romance is appropriate for teens, the book has more of an adult chick-lit feel. The story stops without resolution and although a follow-up is planned, the abrupt ending breeds a bit more disappointment than anticipation. Readers who enjoyed Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss (Dutton, 2010) will be interested in Henderson's tale of European romance.—Emily Chornomaz, Camden County Library System, NJ
British teenager Violet looks nothing like the rest of her family, so when she discovers a painting of a girl who shares her dark, Mediterranean features and who could be her twin, Violet can’t help wondering if she’s adopted. Rather than ask her mother, the 17-year-old engineers a trip to Tuscany for herself for a summer of finishing school that includes a visit to the Castello di Vesperi, the setting for the painting. As soon as Violet lands in Italy, however, the painting is forgotten in favor of girl drama, a bevy of cute Italian boys, jealous Italian girls, etiquette lessons, and reveling in the magical villa and lush countryside. While Henderson (Kiss Me Kill Me) offers a perky heroine in Violet and plenty of tantalizing romance, readers may be jarred when the dropped thread suddenly picks up again in the second half of the novel, and someone may be out to hurt Violet. Light summer fun with much left unresolved for a planned sequel. Ages 12–up. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider. (June)
From the Publisher
"Violet morphs into a funny, caustic observer, comparing and contrasting teen cultures and moresAmerican, British, Italian."—Kirkus Reviews
"Cute Italian boys, jealous Italian girls . . . and plenty of tantalizing romance."—Publishers Weekly
"Flirting stays true to its title: Henderson delivers lots of crushing and a bit of mystery with a dash of Italian 101."—School Library Journal
"If you're lucky enough to study abroad this summer . . . enjoy! But if you're like us, you'll have to live vicariously through hilarious and loveable Brit Violet."—Justine Magazine
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
English teenager Violet is drawn to a summer-study program at a villa in Italy for two reasons: to escape her emotionally needy mother and to unravel a haunting mystery: why does she bear an uncanny resemblance to the girl depicted in the painting "Portrait of a Young Lady," shown seated in a castle in Tuscany, by an unknown painter of the mid-eighteenth century? There's a third reason, too: to meet gorgeous Italian boys with their tight jeans and purring Vespas. Henderson knows how to write scenes of girl-girl cattiness and boy-girl flirtiness that will ring true to her intended audience of girl readers interested in savoring the lazy pleasures of poolside sunbathing followed by the details of exactly what to wear to dance all night at parties in the hills overlooking Florence. Occasionally, Henderson throws in a scene where someonewho can it be?seems to be trying to kill Violet. Given that a sequel, Kissing in Italian, is planned (though plenty of kissing occurs in this first book), almost every plot issue is left unresolved: Violet's relationship with her mother, Violet's relationship with sexy, brooding Luca, and Violet's search for the secrets of her past. Readers will need to wait for the next volume to move forward to closure on all of these, but will likely to be eager to do so, and to experience more frenzied dancing, steamy kissing, and late-night Vespa rides along the way. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Child of Nordic/Scottish parents, Violet--short, dark, curvy--feels like one of a kind until she discovers her uncanny resemblance to the Italian girl depicted in a 1790 portrait. Tracing the painting's provenance to Castello di Vesperi in Tuscany, Violet wheedles her mother into sending her to Villa Barbiano, whose formidable owner, Catia, offers summer instruction in the Italian language, art and art history. Joining Violet are working-class Kelly, another Brit, and two rich American girls: blonde Paige and African-American Kendra. Cultures clash, but strife recedes as the girls unite against the unspeakable Elisa, Catia's daughter, in pursuit of hot Italian boys, beginning with Elisa's brother, Leonardo. Violet sets her sights on handsome Luca, whose family owns Castello di Vesperi. The plot finally thickens halfway through, when Violet's resemblance to Luca's family is discovered and their burgeoning romance interrupted by attempts on her life. Slapdash execution, an undisciplined, rambling style and often-senseless plot (why doesn't plucky Violet simply ask her doting mother if she's adopted?) mark this series opener from the author of the Scarlet Wakefield mysteries. Fortunately, Violet's character eventually develops: Abandoning her generically breathless persona, Violet morphs into a funny, caustic observer, comparing and contrasting teen cultures and mores--American, British, Italian. For readers willing to abandon plot logic and go with the flow, there are compensations. (Mystery romance. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
My Daughter’s Leaving Me
“Signore e signori, please fasten your seat belts and return your seatbacks and tray tables to the upright position,” says the airline steward over the PA. “We will be landing in Pisa in fifteen minutes. Signore e signori, siete pregati di allacciare le cinture di sicurezza . . .”
I peer through the window beside me. Bright blue-green sea below, such a vivid aquamarine that unless you saw it with your own eyes you wouldn’t believe it could actually exist in nature. Little white flecks dance across the azure blue, waves tossed up by the wake of the occasional boat. And then the deep aquamarine fades to a lighter blue as the water becomes more shallow; the coast comes into view. It’s my first glimpse of Italy, and it takes my breath away. It’s the start of July, full summer, and the sea and land are bathed in dazzling golden sunshine. I can see a marina along the coastline, tiny dots that must be fishing boats and yachts moored in an inlet. The seashore is the color of pale terra-cotta, but beyond it, beyond the miniature red roofs of the buildings that cluster around it, there’s rich green marshland. I know (from the in-flight magazine, not a more impressive source) that the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands in the Field of Miracles, and I squint, trying as hard as I can to make out a white pillar on a bed of green grass, but no luck.
Italy! My anticipation is intensifying so powerfully that I’m breathless. My mum says that when I was a little girl, I would get so excited at the prospect of a treat that I would barely be able to breathe; I’d rock back and forth, hyperventilating, making little gasping noises, eyes like saucers, mouth open. I twist away from the window, focusing on the gray marled fabric of the seatback in front of me, trying to calm the frantic pounding of my heart.
Italy. It’s really happening. My adventure--maybe my real life--is about to begin.
And at that thought, my heart sinks. I’m feeling suddenly, horribly, guilty.
Because I left my mum behind. For two whole months. We’ve never been apart for that long, and I don’t know how she’s going to manage.
Even worse, I’m secretly, shamefully, glad. Glad to be leaving my mum, to be free for maybe the first time ever in my life. To be alone, without her always there, able to work out who I am in the space her absence will give me. Though I’m sitting in a cramped airline seat, arms tucked into my sides so I don’t accidentally whack my neighbor, I feel as if I have more space to breathe than ever before.
Maybe that’s how it always works; maybe you never realize how squashed in you’ve been until the restrictions vanish, and you can finally stretch out your arms. I feel as if I could whirl around again and again.
I should be in pieces about leaving Mum. I must be a really bad daughter.
I fumble for my phone, then remember I can’t turn it on midair. So I slip my laptop out of my bag for a brief moment and open it up; I’ve saved the photo of the portrait on it as well, just in case I lose my phone.
I click to open the picture, and get the same shock I always do as it comes up onscreen. I stare at myself, at hair decorated with pearls, at a green taffeta dress, my eyes looking back at me, and I know that I’ve done the right thing in leaving my mother behind to come on this quest to find out where I come from. And why on earth this girl from eighteenth-century Italy is my mirror image.
Because as I snap my laptop shut, I know that anyone who saw a resemblance like this would move heaven and earth to find out the reason behind it.
Ever since I saw the portrait in Sir John Soane’s Museum, I plotted and schemed and strategized so successfully that I surprised myself with the sheer extent of my capacity for covert action. The first thing I did was drop the name of the Castello di Vesperi into conversation with my mum.
Faux-casually, of course. I’ve just done my final A‑level exams--English, French, and art history--and the plan is for me to study art history at Cambridge University, if they let me in. In the autumn, I’ll sit the Cambridge entrance exam and go for interviews at the college I’ve applied for, which means my studying isn’t over, even though the A‑levels are. I’m still supposed to be reading art books, going to galleries and exhibitions, building up my knowledge as much as possible. So it’s very easy to tell my mother, over dinner, that I’m going to an exhibition at the Wallace Collection tomorrow with my friend Lily-Rose--paintings from the Castello di Vesperi in Chianti. Her eyes don’t even flicker; she forks up another piece of grilled chicken, smiles at me, and says that sounds lovely. No recognition of the name at all.
I test it out again, at the end of dinner, as I’m stacking the dishwasher; I mention the name of the fictitious exhibition again, and how much I’m looking forward to it.
“Goodness, you are keen!” Mum says. “You’ve been out at museums all this week!” She yawns. “Time to collapse on the sofa, don’t you think? What film shall we watch tonight?”
So that’s totally conclusive. No recognition of the name di Vesperi at all. Mum is the worst liar in the world, which is probably why her brief attempt at an acting career failed completely: she’s incapable of pretending to feel anything she doesn’t. It’s probably why she was such a good model, though. She’s as transparent as a pool of water; every new emotion is instantly registered on her face. We have some of her most famous photos hung in the flat, and I love them all, because they capture Mum’s expressions so perfectly--wistful, happy, thoughtful, loving. She told me once that photographers she worked with learned how to trigger her emotions: they’d yell “Think of cute puppies, Daisy!” if they wanted her to smile, or “Your boyfriend said he needs to take a break!” if they were after romantic melancholy.
And the most famous photo of all, the Vogue cover where she’s holding an orchid in her hand, staring at it with a misty, tender gaze in her big blue eyes, her blond hair falling down her back: in that one, she said, the photographer told her to look at the flower and think of what she loved most in the world.
From the Hardcover edition.