Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: "Me and You" by Niccolo Ammaniti



Despite having a different translator than his first three books published in English, I am glad to say that Me and You by Italy’s Niccolo Ammaniti is just as good as I’m Not Scared, granted it is a much smaller story, where the implications are not nearly as brutal or terrifying as kidnapping, but what this book as that that one does not is a keen sense of sentiment. It stills bears the hallmarks of what I liked in I’m Not Scared, such as the threats that the adults posed, the feelings of helplessness that children have in the face of adults who don’t always have the good sense adults should, and writing about all this in a way that moves things along like the best of thrillers so it is never boring. By tightening and shortening the scope of I’m Not Scared, which itself was just barely 200 pages, Ammaniti is able to make the story more personal and relatable and, for the most part, easier to read in a single sitting. We meet Lorenzo Cuni, a fourteen-year-old loser with no friends to speak of, as he lies to his mom about a ski trip he is supposed to be taking with a group of popular kids at school. He forces his mom to drop him off before they get to the train station, and from there, Lorenzo sneaks back to his parents apartment complex where he will spend the week in the basement cellar where he will not have to hide his true self. We learn through a couple of brief flashback sequences that Lorenzo has the makings of a sociopath who is able to blend into society seamlessly, but is sadden by those around him who are normal. While enjoying his solitude in the cellar, his adult half-sister shows up, with deeper problems of her own, looking for his parents, only to force herself upon his weeklong sojourn in the basement. Slowly they come to like each other, and make a promise that leads to a truly heartbreaking ending. The shorter length allows for greater emotional depth, which creates a very poignant message about what it means to be different but to still want to be loved. We find out Lorenzo made up the lie about the trip because he really wanted to go, which creates a large amount of empathy for someone we hated in the opening pages. It represents a feeling we all have despite how we sometimes scoff at it. Alienation does hurt and we all want to be accepted by society at large. So this is really a solid coming of age tale, where the boy learns from his big sister how to care about others and how find your place in the world, despite her maybe not heeding her own advice. Mix in with these strong feelings this novel brings to the surface a few great moments of suspense and thrills, and you get a short, gem of a novel by one of the living master of the literary thriller.
Rating: 5/5

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