In this novel by best-selling Italian author Ammaniti (I'm Not Scared; As God Commands), Lorenzo, craving solitude, lies to his parents about going with classmates on a skiing vacation to Cortina and hides out in the basement of their Rome apartment building. This falsehood pleases his mother, who is overjoyed at the acceptance of her misfit 14-year-old son by popular kids. After a day or two of sleeping late, playing video games, and eating junk food, Lorenzo is stunned when his estranged half-sister, Olivia, whom he barely knows and who is ten years his senior, knocks on the door of his basement refuge, in need of a place to crash. When she becomes ill, Lorenzo does all he can to help her, even visiting his gravely ill grandmother in the hospital to find medicine. As their week together draws to a close, the two develop a strong bond. An afterword about what happens to Olivia makes a powerful climax to this well-written book. VERDICT Ammaniti is a fantastic writer, with the ability to deliver a lingering verbal punch in the gut. This suspenseful yet clever and elegant novel is a sure winner. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH
A boy and girl, family love and family secrets come together in Italian author Ammaniti's latest (As God Commands, 2009, etc.). The author elegizes adolescence fiercely and sympathetically. His 14-year-old hero, Lorenzo Cumi, is a great character, part Young Werther, part Kurt Cobain. In the city of Bernini and Michelangelo, Lorenzo is an artless rebel, diagnosed by a dim shrink with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Actually just alienated, he relieves boredom by bullying. Busted, he retreats, like a Kafka character, into imagining he's an insect; in his case, a sort of SuperBug. Success at soccer gives him new credibility with his schoolmates, and he fantasizes about an invite to a ski trip with the popular gang. It's only a dream, though, so when trip time arrives, Lorenzo lies to his parents that he is going and retreats for a week to a forgotten cellar in his parents' home. Bliss—and he won't be missed. Solaced by Nutella, PlayStation and Stephen King novels, he's living Introvert Idyll until his mom keeps calling his cell phone, demanding to speak to the mom who's hosting the ski jaunt. And then an unlikely conspirator intervenes. Just in time to fake a convincing mom voice, Lorenzo's long-lost sister Olivia stumbles into the bunker. Luscious at 24, Olivia's just as cool, or even coldly confident, as the girl Lorenzo had once had a crush on, but there's something now different about her. A fear in her eyes. Track marks on her arms. And as this odd, intense Roman holiday unwinds, brother and sister begin to reconnect—and try to rescue each other. Scary, lovely and at last a heartbreaker.