White Like Milk, Red Like Blood: A Novel - Alessandro D'Avenia

This book is being billed as the Italian Fault in our Stars. That may seem like a great hook for an unknown writer, given the fervor of John Green fans. It anticipates them grasping for anything like his books in the gaps between their publication, and as they wait for the movie premiere. But I think the hook does this novel a disservice. A quick glance at the reviews on Goodreads will help you understand. For the most part, the reviews that are in English are not great, and often, the loyal fans are incited by the idea that this book could be compared to their beloved. As the saying goes, Mr. D’Avenia, you’re no Jack Kennedy, er, uh, John Green. The Italians, however, love it.


If we were talking movies, I would say this book is a cross between Some Kind of Wonderful (for the boy in love), and Dead Poet’s Society (for the charismatic teacher). Someone online said that if John Hughes made tragedies, he’d be all over this one, and I have to agree.


But I will first consider this book on it’s own. The odd pattern of the narrator’s speech, which is not really a pattern, but more a way of looking at things in general, took me a while to get used to. As I got into the book that issue disappeared, though, and I am thinking now that it was more a question of awkward translation, than an actual way of speaking. I am guessing that in Italian the grammar was correct, or at least as correct as the author wanted it to be for his 16-year-old narrator. Given that D’Avenia has a PhD in Classics, and is a high school literature teacher and screenwriter, I am pretty sure this may be a problem with the translation. This is the second book I’ve read recently where this has been an issue, not sure why. Maybe we need younger translators?


But don’t let any of this stop you from reading it. I loved the quirky spirit of Leo, the narrator, who at first seems so full of himself, and soon enough is exposed as the vulnerable guy he really is. Leo is larger than life in his tiny part of the world (he’s the king of the jungle, of course), but he is just beginning to realize how small that world is. His story of unrequited love has been told a million times before, but you can never really tire of a story like this if the characters are compelling and the story is well told. So grab a cup of espresso, and enjoy yourself while Leo tells his story.