I went into this book wanting a fluffy, feel-good, summertime read. I was not disappointed! It was as feel-good as a big pile of puppies.
I wanted to hug it at the end. I really wish I had read books like this when I was the same age as the characters (in this case, 16). Because while it has a few flaws, Love & Gelato is a beautiful story of love had, love lost, love remembered, and love hoped for. Even though I like to pretend I’m too tough for such sentimentality, I still have a real soft spot in my heart for a good happy ending. What really makes me happy though, is a happy ending that isn’t just happily ever after. There’s pain and sadness, enough drama to suit most high-school students but not enough to entirely put the adults off, but above all there is HOPE. Rainbow in the clouds kind of hope.
Anyway. The story starts out on a rather sad note, as 16-year-old Lina’s mom passes from cancer, leaving behind quite the bombshell – surprise! Lina’s never-before-heard-from father, who lives in Italy, wants her to come live with him, and it was her mother’s dying wish (basically) that she go spend the summer with him.
^Basically Lina’s reaction. With a lot more tears, because obviously her mom just died.
So off she hops to Italy, with much encouragement from her grandmother. She arrives, nearly has a meltdown over the fact that her father is the caretaker of a war memorial (i.e., he lives in a cemetery) – which I was first really annoyed about. I’ve never understood people’s aversion to cemeteries, even when I was younger. I was always more fascinated than scared…not sure what that makes me, haha. But, given that Lina’s mom has just died, I guess she can be forgiven her little freak out.
She almost immediately meets a cute neighbor boy, Ren, who is “as Italian as a plate of meatballs,” yet not quite, and there’s a slight, almost-insta-crush. I say almost, because there are a lot of mixed signals, and a couple of chapters later there is insta-LOVE that made me throw up in my mouth a little. There are several moments that made me laugh out loud – and I think most readers will join me no matter where they fall on the age scale! The people in the little community she finds are memorable, lovable, and sometimes just hysterical.
While all that is going down, she’s also finding out more about her mom – mostly through a journal her mom mysteriously mailed to Italy ahead of her, but also through the memories of the people there who remember her from her youth – her dad, and exploring Italy. Italy. How many 16-year-olds get to go to Italy?? I was really glad that Lina didn’t just wallow in her sadness or her boy-crush and actually went out and explored. You can really tell the author has been to Florence herself – I felt like I was walking the streets right beside Lina.
We also see Florence 16 years prior, through the eyes of Lina’s mom via her journal. They both fall in love with gelato. I have yet to get to experience real Italian gelato for myself, but even the exported stuff makes me weak-kneed.
I can’t say a whole lot here without giving spoilers, but suffice to say some things just don’t add up, a lot of things don’t have the happy ending we might expect and there are a couple of big surprises. Love hurts. People make the wrong choices. But sometimes, we all get a second chance.
Turns out there’s a reason they call it falling in love, because when it happens – really happens – that’s exactly how it feels…you just let go and hope that someone’s going to be there to catch you. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with some pretty hefty bruises.
I really loved that Lina has to make choices and that they are realistic. Things are not entirely rosy-glassed here. But some things are! Haha. Because you get roses along with the thorns, eventually. I love the ending. It’s not a promise of happily-ever-after, but a happily-right-now. I wish I had realized at 16 that sometimes, happily-right-now with a hope of happily-later-on is sometimes perfection in and of itself.
4/5 stars. Because of the insta-crush/love, and the sheer convenience of the entire thing being a little far-fetched but mostly overlook-able. Also the “puppy-dog sleeping-boy” smell comment at one point. Sorry, but NO MEMBER OF THE MALE SPECTRUM smells nice first thing in the morning, unless he tricked you and brushed his teeth first. Haha!!