Europa Editions, 2012.
Review published Mar 2017.
Lila and Elena are best friends growing up in a poor neighborhood of Naples in the 1950s. As Elena tells the story of their lives we meet the members of the small tight-knit community, where the children compete in school and on the streets as they play and scheme and learn how to survive. Elena is convinced as she enters puberty that Lila is so much more beautiful and smart than she is, she must keep her friend by sharing thoughts and dreams and plans, even as Lila's family draws her in a different direction.
Like many other readers, I'm not sure why this has been met with such praise. I suspect part of the reason is that the author has kept her identity secret; part is because the details of the neighborhood are vividly detailed; part is because the worries and crises the girls meet are the universal problems of girls growing up anywhere.
There are some good throw-away details, like Elena's awareness that some people speak correct Italian and will be the ones who will prosper. Certain scenes, like the boys' fighting and the parents lack of interest in Elena's academic success, arouse the reader's sympathy.
But I'm not rushing out to read the second book.