White as Silence, Red as Song: A Novel

White as Silence, Red as Song: A Novel

by Alessandro D'Avenia

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Overview

Hailed as Italy’s The Fault in Our Stars, this Italian bestseller is now available for the first time in English.

“I was born on the first day of school, and I grew up and old in just two hundred days . . .”

Sixteen-year-old Leo has a way with words, but he doesn’t know it yet. He spends his time texting, polishing soccer maneuvers, and killing time with Niko and Silvia. Until a new teacher arrives and challenges him to give voice to his dreams.

And so Leo is inspired to win over the red-haired beauty Beatrice. She doesn’t know Leo exists, but he’s convinced that his dream will come true. When Leo lands in the hospital and learns that Beatrice has been admitted too, his mission to be there for her will send him on a thrilling but heartbreaking journey. He wants to help her but doesn’t know how—and his dream of love will force him to grow up fast.

Having already sold over a million copies, Alessandro D’Avenia’s debut novel is considered Italy’s The Fault in Our Stars. Now available in English for the first time, this rich, funny, and heartwarming coming-of-age tale asks us to explore the meaning—and the cost—of friendship, and shows us what happens when suffering bursts into the world of teenagers and renders the world of adults speechless.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785217060
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 617,339
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Alessandro D’Avenia holds a PhD in Classical Literature, and teaches Ancient Greek, Latin and Literature at a high school in Milan. White as Silence, Red as Song was his first novel,published in Italy in 2010. It sold a million copies in Italy, has been translated into over twenty languages and was released as a film in 2012. Alessandro has since published four more books, the latest of which, Every Story is a Love Story, was published in October 2017.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Everything is a color. Every emotion is a color.

Silence is white — and I can't stand white. It has no boundaries: a white elephant, a white flag, a white lie ... In fact, white isn't even a color. It is nothing, like silence. A kind of nothing without words or music. Silent, alone. I can't be silent or alone, which are the same thing. I feel a pain just above my stomach — or inside my stomach, I've never quite worked it out — that compels me to jump on my run-down Batscooter without brakes (when will I get around to fixing it?) and ride aimlessly, staring at girls in the street to determine if I am alone. If any one of them stares back at me, I exist.

But why am I like this? I lose control. I don't know how to be alone. I need ... even I don't know what. It drives me crazy! So I have an iPod instead. Because when you know that the day ahead will taste like dusty tarmac at school, followed by a tunnel of boredom, homework, parents, and dog, over and over again until death do us part, the only thing that can save you is the right soundtrack. With a pair of headphones in your ears, you enter another dimension. You get into the right color mood. If I need to fall in love: melodic rock. If I need to recharge: pure heavy metal. If I need to pump myself up: rap and various kinds of profanities. That way I'm not alone. White. Someone is there to give color to my day.

Not that I get bored. Theoretically I have thousands of ideas, ten thousand plans, a million dreams to fulfill, a billion projects to start. But I can't seem to start a single one because nobody's interested. So I end up asking myself: Leo, who the hell are you doing this for? Forget it and enjoy what you have.

There is only one life, and when it turns white, my computer is the best way to color it. I always find someone to chat with. (My nickname is Pirate, like Captain Jack Sparrow.) Because listening to others is something I can do. It makes me feel good. Or I get on my Batscooter without brakes and ride around. If I do have a destination, it's to go to Niko's and play a few tunes together, him on the bass guitar and me on the electric guitar. We'll be famous one day. We'll have our own band and we'll call it The Crew. Niko says I should sing, too, because I have a good voice, but I'm shy. When you play the guitar your fingers do the singing, and fingers never blush. Nobody boos a guitarist, whereas a singer ...

If Niko is busy, I meet the others at the bus stop. It's the stop outside school, the one where every single infatuated guy has declared his love to the world. There is always someone hanging out there, sometimes girls too. Sometimes even Beatrice is there, and that's why I go. For her.

It's weird how nobody wants to go to school in the morning, but then everyone hangs out there in the afternoon. The difference is that the vampires — the teachers, that is — have left. The bloodsuckers go home in the afternoon and crawl back into their sarcophaguses waiting for their next victims. Though, unlike vampires, teachers act during the day.

But if Beatrice is at the bus stop, everything is different. When her green eyes are wide open, they fill her entire face. When she lets down her red hair, it feels like the sunrise has smothered you. She has few words, carefully chosen. If she were a movie, she'd be a genre not yet invented. If she were a scent, she'd be early morning sand, when the beach is alone with the sea. Color? Beatrice is red. The way love is red. A tempest. A hurricane that sweeps you away. An earthquake that crumbles your body to pieces. That's how I feel every time I see her. She doesn't know yet, but one of these days I'll tell her.

Yes, one of these days I'll tell her that she is the one for me and I am the one for her. That's the way it is, and there's no getting away from it. When she realizes it, everything will be perfect, like in the movies. I just have to find the right moment and the right hairstyle. I think it's mostly a problem of hair. I would only cut it if Beatrice asked me to. But what if I lose my strength like the guy in that story? No, a Pirate shouldn't cut his hair, and a lion without a mane is not a lion. There's a reason my name is Leo.

I once saw a documentary about lions. A male lion with a huge mane appeared out of the brush as a gentle voice-over said: "The king of the forest has his crown." That's what my hair is like. Free and majestic.

A lion's mane is easy to look after. I never have to comb it — just let it grow wild, as if every strand is a thought bursting out of my head, occasionally exploding and spraying out, like the exhilarating fizz that Coke makes when you first open a can. I give my thoughts to others and say a lot with my hair. It's so true. What I've just said is so true.

People understand me because of my hair. Well, at least, the others in the group do, the other Pirates: Sponge, Beanpole, and Curly. Dad gave up ages ago. Mom does nothing but criticize me. Nan nearly dies of heart failure whenever she sees me, but that's no big deal if you're ninety.

Why do they find it so difficult to understand my hair? First they say, "You have to be original. Express yourself! Be yourself!" Then, when you try to show who you really are, they say, "You have no identity. You behave like all the others!" What kind of logic is that? I just don't get it. You're either yourself or you're like everyone else. Either way, they're never happy. The truth is, they're envious. Especially the baldies. If I ever go bald I'll kill myself.

Anyhow, if Beatrice doesn't like my hair, I guess I'll cut it — but I want to think about it, as it could also be a strong point. Beatrice, either you love me the way I am, with this hair, or we're going nowhere. If we don't agree on the little things, how can we ever be together? We have to be ourselves and accept others as they are — that's what they always say on TV — otherwise, what kind of love is it? Come on, Beatrice. Why don't you get it? And anyway, I already like everything about you, so you have a head start. Girls are always ahead. How is it they always win? If you're pretty, you have the entire world at your feet. You choose what you want, do what you want, wear what you want ... Nothing matters because everyone looks up to you anyway. How lucky!

Me, on the other hand, I have days when I don't even want to leave the house. I feel so ugly I just want to hide in my room, never looking at myself in the mirror. White. With a white face. Colorless. What torture. But then there are days when I am red too. Where do you find a guy like me? I throw on the right T-shirt, pull up my jeans till they sit just perfectly, and feel like a god. Zac Efron, eat your heart out. I go out on my own. I could quite happily say to the first girl I come across, "Hey, gorgeous. Let's go out tonight. Seize the incredible opportunity I'm offering you! If you're with me, everyone will look at you and say, 'How on earth did you manage to hook up with a guy like him? Your girlfriends will be green with envy!' "

I'm a hero! I have such a full life. I never stop. If it weren't for school, I'd already be someone.

If I didn't have to go to school, I would probably be more rested, handsome, and famous. My school is called Horace, like the Mickey Mouse character. The walls are peeling, and the classrooms have blackboards that are more gray than black, as well as frayed maps with continents and nations that have long faded or gone adrift. The walls are painted two colors, white and brown, like an ice cream sandwich. But there is nothing nice about school except the dismissal bell. And when it starts its incessant ringing, it seems to be screaming out at you: "Run for it! You've wasted another day inside these two-colored walls!"

On rare occasions, school is useful — like when I suddenly feel down and I'm drowning in white thoughts, asking myself where I'm going, what I'm doing, if I'll ever do anything positive with my life, if ... Fortunately, the playground is full of people in my same situation. We talk about everything; we let go of the kinds of thoughts that ultimately lead to nothing. White thoughts lead to nothing, so white thoughts must be eliminated.

In a McDonald's that smells of McDonald's, I devour hot French fries while Niko noisily slurps his huge Coke through a straw.

You mustn't think of white.

Niko is always telling me that. Niko is always right. There's a reason he's my best friend. He is like Will Turner to Jack Sparrow. We save each other's lives at least once a month because that's what friends are for. Me, I choose my friends. That's the good thing about friends. You choose them and you feel good with them because you choose the ones you want. Whereas you don't choose your classmates. They just happen to you, and sometimes they are a real pain in the neck.

Niko is in form B — I'm in D — and we play on the same five-aside soccer team at school: the Pirates. A pair of soccer wunderkinds. There's someone in class who's constantly nervous named Electra. The name says it all. Some people condemn their kids with the choice of name. I'm called Leo and I'm cool with that. I was lucky: The name makes you think of someone strong and attractive stepping out of the forest like a lion with a mane. Roaring. Or, at least in my case, trying to. Unfortunately, everyone's fate is sealed in their name. Take Electra. What kind of name is that? It sounds like electric current, and the name alone is enough to give you a shock. That's why she's always on edge.

There's always a professional ball-breaker too: Giacomo — known as Stinker — is another name that brings bad luck! It makes one think of Giacomo Leopardi, who was a poet with a hunchback and no friends. Nobody speaks to Giacomo. He smells. And nobody has the courage to tell him. Since I've fallen in love with Beatrice, I shower every day and shave once a month. At the end of the day it's Giacomo's problem if he doesn't bathe, though surely at least his mother could say something about it. But no. Anyway, it's not my fault. I can't save the world. Spiderman can see to that.

Niko's burp brings me back to earth, and in between fits of laughter I say to him, "You're right. I mustn't think about white."

Niko slaps me on the back. "I want to see you all hyped up tomorrow! We've got to put those losers to shame!" I beam with delight. What would school be like without the soccer tournament?

"I don't know why I did it, I don't know why I enjoyed it, and I don't know why I'll do it again": my life philosophy summarized in a Bart Simpson quote. Bart is my sole teacher and guide. Today our history and philosophy teacher is sick. Yay! We'll get a substitute teacher. She'll be the usual loser.

You mustn't say that!

Mom's threatening words ring out in my head, but I say it anyway. When needs must! A substitute teacher is by definition a concentration of cosmic loser.

Firstly: because substitute teachers sit in for regular teachers, who are already losers — meaning a substitute teacher is three times a loser.

Secondly: just for being a substitute teacher. What kind of life is that — taking over for someone who's sick?

That is, not only are substitutes losers, but also they bring bad luck to others. Loser to the nth degree. A loser is purple, because purple is the color of death.

We wait for her to arrive. She'll be ugly with an immaculate purple dress, and we'll pummel her with saliva-drenched paper pellets fired with utmost precision from empty Bic pens.

Instead a young guy walks in wearing a shirt and jacket. Neat. Eyes too dark for my liking. Dark glasses, too, resting on his nose, which is too long. A bagful of books. He goes on about how he loves what he studies. That's all we need, someone who believes in it. They're the worst! I can't remember his name. He told us, but I was busy talking to Silvia. Silvia is the kind of person you can talk to about anything. I'm really fond of her and I often hug her. I do it because she's happy and so am I. But she's not my type. I mean, she's cool, you can talk to her about anything, and she knows how to listen and give you advice. But she doesn't have that extra something: the magic, the charm. What Beatrice has. She doesn't have Beatrice's red hair. Beatrice just needs to look at you to make you dream. Beatrice is red. Silvia is blue, like all real friends. Whereas this substitute teacher is just a tiny black stain on a hopelessly white day!

Loser, loser, super-loser!

He has dark hair. Dark eyes. A dark jacket. Basically he looks like Darth Vader. All he's missing is killer breath with which to put an end to students and colleagues. He doesn't know what to do because he hasn't been given instructions, and no one can reach Mrs. Argentieri on her cell phone. Mrs. Argentieri has a cell phone but doesn't even know how to use it. Her children gave it to her. It even has a camera, but she doesn't have a clue. She just uses it to call her husband. Because her husband is sick. He has cancer, poor guy! Tons of people get cancer. If it gets to your liver, that's it. Really bad deal. Her husband has liver cancer.

Mrs. Argentieri never spoke to us about it. We learned about it from our PE teacher, Mrs. Nicolosi. Her husband is a doctor, and Mrs. Argentieri's husband takes chemo at the hospital where Mrs. Nicolosi's husband works. Jeez, Mrs. Argentieri has been so unlucky! She's tedious and fussy as hell, obsessed with that guy who said you can't step twice into the same river — which seems pretty obvious to me. But I feel sorry for her when she checks her phone to see if her husband has called.

Anyhow, the substitute teacher tries to teach us, but — like all substitute teachers — he has no shot because, quite rightly, no one pays any attention. In fact, it's a great opportunity to mess around and have a laugh at the expense of a grown-up's failure. At one point I raise my hand and ask him, in a serious voice, "Why did you choose this job?"

And in a whisper I add: "As a loser?"

Everyone laughs. He's unfazed.

"Because of my granddad."

This guy is nuts.

"When I was ten years old, my grandfather told me the story of A Thousand and One Nights."

Silence.

"But let's talk about the Carolingian Renaissance now."

The entire class looks at me. I am the one who started it, and I have to continue. They're right. I am their hero.

"Excuse me, sir, but do you mean the story of A Thousand and ... well, that one?"

Somebody chuckles. Silence. A rolling tumbleweed, Wild West type of silence. His eyes meet my eyes.

"I presumed you weren't interested in how to become a loser."

Silence. He's got the upper hand. I don't know what to say.

"No, in fact, we're not interested."

But in reality I am interested. I want to know why someone dreams about becoming a loser, then works hard for that dream to come true. He even seems happy. The others glare at me. Not even Silvia approves.

"Do tell us, sir. We're interested," she says.

Abandoned even by Silvia, I turn to white as the teacher begins, with those devilish eyes of his.

"Mohamed el-Magrebi lived in Cairo, in a little house with a garden, a fig tree, and a fountain. He was poor. He fell asleep and dreamed of a drenched man who removed a golden coin from his mouth and said to him: 'Your fortune is in Persia. You will find a treasure in Isfahan ... so you must go there!' Mohamed awoke and set off immediately. After encountering a thousand dangers he reached Isfahan. Here, as he tried to find food, exhausted, he was mistaken for a thief. He was beaten almost to death with bamboo sticks. Later the chief of police asked him: 'Who are you, where are you from, why are you here?' The man told him the truth: 'I dreamed of a drenched man who told me to come here because I would find a treasure. Yet all I've gotten is a beating!' The chief of police chuckled and replied: 'Idiot. You believe in dreams? Three times I dreamt about a humble house in Cairo with a garden, a fig tree, and a fountain, and beneath the fountain a huge treasure! But I never set off to find it! Away with you, you sucker!' The man returned home, dug beneath the fountain in his garden, and found the treasure!"

He tells the story with the right pauses, like an actor. My classmates are all wide-eyed and dumbstruck. This is a bad sign. All we needed was a storytelling substitute teacher. I greet the end of the story with a chuckle.

"Is that it?"

The substitute teacher stands up without saying a word. He sits on the desk.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "White as Silence, Red as Song"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Alessandro D'Avenia.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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