Book Review: “Wish You Were Italian” by Kristin Rae

Image from Goodreads
Cover © Bloomsbury

Wish You Were Italian
Kristin Rae
Bloomsbury, 2014
ISBN 978-1-61963-285-1
Hardcover, 323 pages

Pippa Preston, a 17-year-old, soon-to-be senior in high school, is about to embark on a journey of a lifetime—that she doesn’t want. Her parents own an art gallery in Chicago (and, no, not the Art Institute), and they have big plans for Pippa, especially her mother. Pippa is Italy-bound for two months to study in an art history program in Florence, per her mother’s request a week before her departure. Well, Pippa would describe this trip as “forced.” Plane tickets were bought, enrollment fee and tuition were paid. All that needed to happen was for Pippa to go.

Morgan, Pippa’s best friend, gifted her a journal with daily activities and assignments to keep her busy and motivated for the whole summer. Assignment One: Write out a list of 10 goals for the summer while in Italy. Each point on the list is typical things you’d expect: eat a whole pie of pizza in one sitting,  see Pompeii, take a picture in front of the Colosseum. The final goal on the list: Fall in love with an Italian.

Arriving in Rome three days before her program starts, Pippa decided she doesn’t have to go to this art program. Her parents aren’t around to watch her. Heck, her dad even left her an encouraging and slightly apologetic note for the way her summer plans were announced to her and about $1,000 in an envelope. With her new-found independence, Pippa decides that she’s going to do Italy her way. After all, when in Rome.

The story picks up with Pippa sending a phony email to the school she was to study over the summer, pretending to be her mother, apologizing for the inconvenience of Pippa’s absence. One thing leads to another, and Pippa makes friends with a few American (Darren, Nina and Tate) and a friendly Italian barista, Chiara . In fact, Chiara befriends Pippa quickly enough that she offers to take her to her to stay at her aunt’s house in this gorgeous part of Italy, where Pippa can continue her adventure. And what’s an adventure without a hunky, bad boy Italian fawning over her too?

Now, while the story was beautifully written and the descriptions of all the sites in Italy made me feel like I was there, there logistics of the story fell short with me. As someone who has lived abroad, I can tell you as an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, I felt vulnerable in a foreign country and unable to speak the proper dialect of the country I was in. Point being: I’m not sure if I find the idea of a 17-year-old high schooler deciding to take on Rome alone for two months plausible. Not that she doesn’t have street smarts—she is from Chicago after all—but being abroad is a whole different adventure that even the city can’t prepare you for.

Wish You Were Italian is a coming-of-age story and an observation of the teenage soul. While the bulk of the story was about Pippa’s freedom and adventures in Italy, her relationship with her mother highlighted most chapters. Being able to stand up for herself and her own future plans is something she needed to do for herself, on her own terms, even if it meant doing something that could’ve ended up slightly dangerous. You’ll cry, you’ll be frustrated, you’ll feel 17 again (minus Zach Efron…or Matthew Perry).

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Copy from my local library

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