Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
Published by Simon Pulse
Published on May 3rd 2016
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Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.
But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept from Lina for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.
People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
I read this during my spring break while on a beach in Puerto Rico, and I have to say, this book is coming out two months early because it is the perfect summer beach read. I also made the mistake of flipping ahead when I first got the book. Don’t do it. Trust me, you’ll be mad at yourself later for ruining the suspense.
It’s a little perplexing why I loved this book so much. When it gets down to the nitty gritty, there are a number of things one could criticize (which I will below). But despite all those subpar things, I still truly enjoyed reading this one. Maybe it’s because this was meant to be a summer read, and the lightheartedness I was experiencing during my vacation bled over into this book. But I think it’s more than that. Love & Gelato has its own magic in it; it’s not inherently a lighthearted read, but it brings with it a love of life, experience, and discovery that I haven’t read in a long time.
“You know, people come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay, it’s for the same two things.”
“Love and gelato.”
We start out with this girl who has come to Italy for the summer determined to hate everything about it, including her father. But while there, she begins to read a journal that her mother had kept during her own time in Italy. Together with that and her newfound family and friends, Lina learns how to live through her loss and eventually comes to love everything about Italy.
The strongest part of this book are the excerpts from Hadley’s journal. They’re succinct, but they have a very strong sense of voice, and you find yourself waiting on the edge of your seat for the next one. Hadley had this kind of passion that I just wanted to take and run with, and while she was often naïve, I still couldn’t hold that against her.
I also really loved Hadley’s and Lina’s moments with Howard. He was a very loveable character, and their respective relationships with him were heart-warming. If anything, I feel like he was the healer all along in this novel, and Lina just needed to find that out.
On the other hand, though Lina was mostly likeable and relatable, sometimes she seemed a little too dumb to be real. A lot of the times, her actions didn’t seem realistic, or thought-out, or in line with her thought process. For example, View Spoiler »it didn’t make any sense at all for her to jump on a train to Rome without reading more of the journal first « Hide Spoiler. A lot of the time, the suspense Lina feels could be solved by her reading more of the journal as opposed to going out and doing something and feeling like she was on the edge of a knife all the time. I wanted her to have better reasons to not continue reading Hadley’s journal.
Another flaw deals especially with the latter part of the book. The story deals with loss—the premature loss of her mother due to cancer—but it focuses more on moving on, and learning to live with that loss.
“The boar was looking down at me…and I knew without asking that my mom had stood right here and gotten gross fountain water splashed all over her legs and hoped with all her heart that she’d stayed in Florence forever. And then look what happened.”
There is, of course, romance, but this feels like much less of Lina’s focus and more of her mother’s. That’s why I felt like the book should have ended on a thought similar to View Spoiler »chapter 26. We resolved both Lina’s timeline and her mother’s romantic timeline, and it felt to me like that should be the end of it « Hide Spoiler. But instead the book shifted focus onto Lina’s relationship with her new friends, and it felt very forced. This was not the focus throughout the book (save for some small points), so why was it big enough to end the book with? I wanted Lina and her mother’s romantic plotlines to mesh in a way that they didn’t, and I think that was my biggest disappointment.
Lastly, I think the characters aside from Hadley, Lina, and Howard, fell a very flat for me. Even Ren and Thomas weren’t really described well enough for me to fall in love with them. Thomas’s existence and View Spoiler »ultimate abrupt character change « Hide Spoiler felt very unnecessary. I also felt like I spent a lot of time with Ren, and despite that, I still didn’t really know enough about him to swoon every (or any) time he showed up on the page.
But as I said before, I still really enjoyed this book! There was an element of nostalgia about it that made the inconsistencies and weaknesses fade into the background. More than anything, there was a dear focus of love—for life, for Italy, for art, for her mother, and for love itself—that really made this book magical to me.
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