Review: Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae

Title Wish You Were Italian
Author Kristin Rae
Published May 6th, 2014 by Bloomsbury
Pages 323 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Part of a Series? Yes (Book 2 in the If Only… series)
Source & Format Received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher for review (Thanks, Penguin Canada!), Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

Pippa is in Italy for the summer and, despite her parents’ wishes, she has no intention of just studying the local art! She has a list of things of her own to do: From swimming in the Mediterranean Sea to getting a makeover – and falling for an Italian boy! As Pippa explores the dramatic ruins of Rome and Pompeii, she is swept into her own drama with two guys: an irresistible local she knows is nothing but trouble and a cute American archaeology student…Will she find her true love?

“You can do this. You want to go to Italy.
By yourself.

Outside the terminal window, the plane that will take me to my connection in Newark taxis up to the gate. Thirty minutes until they board first class. As if a big reclining seat and hot towels could make me forgive Mom any faster.”

It is often said that travel broadens the mind. But for seventeen-year-old Pippa Preston, who has been sent by her mother to attend an art program in Florence meant to educate her on how to become an effective art gallery guide, all travel promises is a series of lost opportunities and crippling boredom as she pursues a career and a passion that is not her own. Anxious and intimidated in a foreign country where she knows no-one and doesn’t speak the language, all Pippa can initially do is worry about all that could go wrong over the course of a single summer. Not if Pippa’s best friend Morgan has anything to say about it, however! Determined to help Pippa make the most out of her exciting, once-in-a-lifetime Italian adventure, Morgan creates a journal filled with a series of prompts and tasks designed to help Pippa step outside of her comfort zone and make the most of her summer abroad. Then a chance meeting with a handsome stranger on her first night in Rome changes everything. Inspired by the beauty and history of her surroundings, Pippa decides to throw caution to the wind and abandon her mother’s carefully made plans. After all, why would one want to learn about Italy from the confines of a classroom when they could experience it firsthand? Using Morgan’s instructions as her guide and taking her beloved camera with her to document every step along the way, Pippa will explore everything from the preserved wonder of Pompeii to the aquamarine water of Cinque Terre and will soon find that sometimes the best things of all are found on the road less travelled.

“You’re in Italy for three months, Pippa.
Three months. That’s a nice chunk of time. Maybe even long enough to see everything I want to see.
But I couldn’t. Could I?
My eyes widen, my eyes staring at the wall but not really focusing on a particular spot. It’s possible…with enough planning.
Three months.
But this was the adventure, staying in Rome a few extra days. It’s enough.
I slide my fingers along the cool stone once more, unable to help the smile on my face despite the logical fear that this could all end very badly.”

Do you ever read a book’s description and immediately become hit with the sudden feeling ‘This is it! This is the book for me!’? This is the story of Wish You Were Italian and I. You see, back in 2010 I was lucky enough to take a fourteen day Mediterranean cruise that allowed me to see parts of Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Even better? Once the cruise was complete, I was able to spend an additional week in Rome at the end of my trip, exploring as much of the city and its surrounding area as I could possibly manage. Pompeii. The Vatican. The Villa Borghese. The Colosseum. The Pantheon. The Trevi Fountain. The Spanish Steps. Prada (Ha!). My days were filled with history, culture, and beauty and I can think of few happier moments in my life. I felt immediately at home and never wanted to leave. So, when I learned of a 2014 release set in a country I had so thoroughly fallen in love with, I was eager to be transported back there, if only in spirit. Wish You Were Italian is contemporary romance for a young adult audience from debut author Kristin Rae which, while not perfect, was a thoroughly enjoyable read full of fun, fancy and frivolity that will be the perfect choice for those searching for lighter fare as the weather continues to warm.

“I fly back to town on the metro line, leaving my worries behind on the steps of St. Peter’s, the largest church in the world. The pope can deal with it all for me.
From here on out, I’m not regretting this decision. I’m going to enjoy every minute, every catcall, every gelato scoop, sunset, pizza slice and spaghetti noodle. I’ll check in with everyone intermittently so they don’t get suspicious, take my prize-winning photographs, and have the experience of a lifetime. The kind of summer people only dream of. I’m going to live it.”

The main protagonist, Pippa Preston, was a character who was very near and dear to my heart, not the least of which is because she reminded me a great deal of myself. Quiet, shy, and more than a little reserved when placed in an unfamiliar situation, Pippa’s time in Italy presents her with one of her first opportunities to step outside of her comfort zone and pursue her passion in life. Like many teenagers her age, Pippa has a strained relationship with her mother and doesn’t feel as though she understands her, and there’s little doubt she’s right. Withdrawn and largely uninterested, Pippa’s mother is more concerned with constructing what she perceives to be the ‘right’ path for Pippa as opposed to encouraging her to forge one herself. Unsupervised and finally allowed the freedom to make her own decisions free of anyone else’s influence, Pippa has the unimaginable courage to take a leap of faith and challenge herself to do something she might otherwise not have dreamt possible. While I don’t know that I could have done anything quite as daring, Pippa’s decision to tour Italy alone and not allow her fear and anxiety to dictate her choices is a valuable lesson and one I would like to attempt to apply in my own life. It was also gratifying to watch as Pippa took her first steps, however small, toward her dream of becoming a photo journalist. As an amateur photographer I really enjoyed catching glimpses of the world through Pippa’s lens.

“As I grab a water pitcher to make the rounds in the shaded outdoor section, Bruno rushes past me and beats Chiara to a table of two giggling American college girls. They’re both either naturally trashy or totally wasted. Seriously? It’s only lunchtime.
I refill the water glasses at the table next to them, but I can hardly pay attention to what I’m doing. The blonde girl sporting a bikini top with tight jean shorts is flirting shamelessly with Bruno. She leans toward him, elbow propped on the table, head resting in her hand as she bats her eyelashes….
I’d kind of like to pour this water over her head but I doubt it would even cool her down.”

There was one moment, however, when my feelings toward Pippa were less than positive and charitable. In the midst of her infatuation with Bruno, Pippa watches as two female tourists attempt to attract his attention. As demonstrated in the above quotation, these are two (presumably single) college girls on an exciting Italian adventure. What’s the harm in an innocent flirtation with an attractive waiter? Why is showing an interest in the opposite sex immediately considered ‘trashy’? Why are these women vilified while Bruno’s roguish, playboy behaviour is (apparently) meant to be considered attractive? This is the sort of harmful double standard and stigma that women have been combatting for a number of years and I was disappointed to find it in a novel I otherwise thoroughly enjoyed. While this will likely be dismissed by most as little more than immaturity and petty jealousy on Pippa’s part, I take it a little more seriously. This is not the sort of message I wish to see presented to young, potentially impressionable readers. It’s all the more damaging because this behaviour is normalized given the casual manner in which it’s incorporated into the story. Pippa never learns from this moment or gains any insight into why she reacts as she does. Moreover, the fault is placed entirely on these two women, and not on Bruno, who is never held accountable for his behaviour. This unnecessary slut-shaming was the one sour note in an otherwise sweet, delightful, feel-good tale. Unfortunately, for this reason this scene lingered in my memory long after I had turned the final page. It was particularly disappointing given Rae’s otherwise refreshing and wonderful emphasis on Pippa’s positive relationship with her two female friends, Morgan and Chiara. To therefore see other women constructed as little more than antagonistic, adversarial romantic rivals felt like squandered potential.

“Assignment Numero Cinque: Be You
Now, I have a feeling you’ve been a more reserved version of yourself thus far. Am I right? But with that last assignment, you’ve already faced your fears, so now reap your reward and live! Be the Pippa that I know you to be for your new Italian friends so they’ll love you as much as I do (but not so much that they keep you, because I totes need you back).
Make an effort today to become more of who YOU want to be.”

Much to my surprise and delight, positive female friendship plays a pivotal role in Wish You Were Italian. It is Pippa’s oldest friend, Morgan, who inspires her to make the most of her summer abroad. The journal of prompts and activities Morgan creates for her demonstrates a deep understanding of Pippa and allows Morgan to be with her best friend in spirit, if not in person. Morgan helps empower Pippa by encouraging her to step outside her comfort zone and supplies a number of suggestions to help Pippa make the most of her time in Italy. Similarly, Chiara, an Italian native whom Pippa befriends at the beginning of her trip, plays a significant role in Pippa’s journey. Chiara is a stabilizing force in Pippa’s life, not only offering her a place to stay when her future remains uncertain but also looking out for Pippa’s best interests when her judgment becomes questionable. It was nice to see these relationships emphasized throughout the course of the novel and to find that they were not lost amidst other considerations like the burgeoning romantic subplot.

“I mean, I wrote it down on paper, the goal to end all goals – fall in love with an Italian. I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain wishing for the same thing. And I didn’t even have to look. An Italian found me! But maybe I’ve been making it too hard on myself, taking my goal too seriously. The idea of falling in love love probably isn’t very realistic.
And this summer is about doing what I want. So if a gorgeous Italian wants to feed me caprese and whisper in my ear, then I officially want him to.”

Speaking of which, as the synopsis suggests, there is love triangle in Wish You Were Italian. Throughout the course of the novel, Pippa’s feelings are town between Darren, an American archeology student studying abroad and Bruno, an Italian local and Chiara’s cousin. The two boys present an interesting study in contrasts and each appeal to two entirely different aspects of Pippa’s nature. Darren is cute, smart, funny, approachable, and awkward, and represents the potential of a long-term relationship after Pippa’s whirlwind summer has ended. Conversely, Bruno is sexy, confident, handsome and flirtatious, and represents the short summer-long fling that Pippa had always dreamt of. Each boy has their fair share of attractive qualities, although I found that Bruno’s antics quickly became tiresome. Ultimately, while it wasn’t difficult to discern who Pippa’s intended partner was, the culmination of this relationship was surprisingly sweet. It’s the sort of thing Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks movies are made of.

“We all turn to go, but something holds me back. I steal another look at the Colosseum, glowing in the rich evening light, trying to comprehend that I’m actually standing in front of the real deal. My fingers twitch at the thought of touching it.
“I’ll be right back,” I tell them as I nearly skip down the crowded path to the outer wall, slowing only just before placing my palm on a section of original stone. Stone once touched by the ancients who first set it in place. I feel so connected already.”

While there were admittedly moments when I suffered from what Anna affectionally calls ‘Old Lady Syndrome’ and I couldn’t help but worry about the risks and danger inherent in what Pippa was doing, it wasn’t difficult to be swept away by the romance, adventure and excitement of three months alone in Italy. It very quickly becomes clear that the author is drawing from a wealth of both research and personal experience, bringing the sights, sounds, and smells of Italy alive with a vivid rendering of Pippa’s travels that could only be accomplished with a great deal of care and attention. From the vast, stark beauty of the Colosseum to the preserved magic and wonder of Pompeii, even the smallest of details did not go overlooked. I was transported back to my own time spent in Italy a number of years ago, and longed to forsake everything and return immediately, if for nothing else but the gelato alone. Oh, the gelato. How I miss it.

“What’s he saying?” I ask Chiara.
“He says you are beautiful.” She smiles, her eyes glistening too. “And that there will be a line.”
“For what, the salon?” I laugh.
“For you.”
I love Italian men.

All that said, there were a handful of moments when I encountered a series of (relatively) minor issues that reminded me that this was, in fact, a debut publication. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the climax of the novel. While I won’t discuss the ensuing events in explicit detail for fear of spoilers, during the climax of the novel something extremely serious occurs, causing an abrupt tonal shift that seemed discordant with the rest of the novel. What was once primarily a light-hearted romance is suddenly transformed into something entirely different, and I felt this wasn’t accomplished with as much subtlety and ease as I would have liked. While I applaud the author’s ambition and attempts to add greater depth and gravity to the story, the abrupt nature of this plot development and short duration of its role within the novel left a little something to be desired in its execution. Speaking as someone who has experienced something similar firsthand, these scenes did not have the emotional resonance and depth necessary to properly convey the seriousness of what was occurring. Generally speaking, the writing also often seemed distinctly geared toward a younger demographic. There are times, for example, when both Pippa and Darren act far younger than their seventeen and eighteen years, respectively. There is talk of ‘things’ instead of penises and a general awkward innocence to their interactions together that belied two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. That said, in some respects this works to the book’s advantage. Because the romantic entanglements remain relatively chaste and the events of the novel are generally what might be perceived as ‘clean’, escapist fun, this makes the novel accessible to a larger audience of readers. For this reason, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Wish You Were Italian to readers as young as twelve or thirteen.

It was a short while, but this was my home.
Nestled among cliffs,
my temporary home lies.
Time pulls me away.

Fun, fanciful, and cute, Kristin Rae’s debut novel Wish You Were Italian is a story of self discovery, friendship and romance that would make the perfect addition to your beach bag this summer. This novel doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but there is certainly something to be said for the comfort and familiarity this sort of story can provide. Although I did encounter a number of minor issues, with a cast of colourful, engaging characters and a story set against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful and historic locales in the world, this novel was a wonderful way to while away the afternoon. Looking to get away this summer but don’t have the time or budget to do so? Join Pippa on a whirlwind Italian adventure where the pizza is hot and the boys even more so. Like the perfect scoop of gelato, Wish You Were Italian is sweet to the very last bite.

Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advanced reader copy and therefore might be subject to change.

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl wrote “I loved Wish You Were Italian so much, and I will be making everyone I know read it!” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Marie @ Ramblings Of A Daydreamer wrote Wish You Were Italian is definitely one of my favourite books of 2014. It had me giggling, swooning, raging, and even tearing up a time or two.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books wrote “It’s got a great cast of characters, a surprisingly compelling story and an amazing exotic locale (actually, more than one of them!). All these elements combined to create an awesome story that I couldn’t put down once I’d started.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

For a little extra fun, here are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took when I visited Naples, Rome and Sicily (among other places) in 2010!

4 Responses

  1. I know we’ve already talked in depth about this book, but it’s nice to see a more detailed explanation from your point of view. To be honest, I didn’t even think much of that scene you’re referring to between Pippa, Bruno, and the American girls. Once you pointed it out though, I can see why it would bother you. However, I think the way it was portrayed was true to how a seventeen year old girl would see it and react to it. Does it make it right? No. But I think it stayed in tune with Pippa’s character.

    I am so jealous of your trip to Italy and its surrounding countries. Even though I’ve been, it was just to Venice, so I feel like I only got a snippet of what that country has to offer. Would love to go back one day!
    Ginger @ GReads! recently posted…GReads! Interrupted: Summer Summer Summer Time!My Profile

  2. Your photos from your trip to Italy are lovely! I can only hope to one day visit there myself, especially after reading Wish You Were Italian.

    And speaking of the book, I really enjoyed your review. I had very positive feelings about it, but also had reservations quite similar to yours. I think you expressed yourself perfectly, highlighting the best things about the book (Pippa, her journey, her besties) and mentioning fairly the things that bothered you. Girl, I wish I could write reviews as beautiful as yours!
    Alexa S. recently posted…An April 2014 RetrospectiveMy Profile

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!