I’m going to level with you right now. My first instinct was to call shout from the heavens that I’ve found Eat, Pray, Love for young adults, but… I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love and I only have the loosest idea of what it’s all about (I do know that Julia Roberts was in the movie though, so that’s something). So let’s not be disingenuous or misleading and instead look at Love & Gelato it’s own merits.
The title is apt and I guess what I wasn’t expecting out of this was the interesting dynamic between all the main characters. Normally parents in young adult novels play strictly supporting roles. They’re there to smile, help out, and then possibly die when the stakes need to be ramped up in a hurry.
Not so with Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. Kind of… It’s complicated.
From the very beginning of the novel, we know that Lina’s mother is going through some tough times. We know that she’s not going to be in the book much longer and within a couple of pages, she’s sadly passed away. Lina, heartbroken, has travelled to Italy to stay with a father she only just found out existed. She’s not doing this because she wants to spend time with him or get to know him better, but because it was her mother’s dying wish that she go to meet him. Let’s just say that Lina is less than enthused.
She’s lost her mother, the foundation of her life, and now every other support that she’s had feels like it’s being torn away since she’s had to leave her life in America. There are some who would embrace this chance for a new start, one that could completely change her life, but all Lina can see is that she’s trapped in a weird house in a country that’s not hers and with internet that never seems to work when she wants it to. Her father, Howard, is genuinely sweet and seems to want to do his best for her, but he’s not her mom and both of them know that.
In fact, Lina’s already trying to figure out how to get home mere days after arriving in Florence and meeting some people her age isn’t going to change that. Not really. Except her neighbour, Ren, is pretty charming and while Lina’s interested in Thomas (the boy who looks like a model and has a British accent), she’s glad to have a friend on this adventure. Because there’s a mystery here beyond whether or not Lina’s going to stay in Italy. Her mother sent her here for a reason and left a journal with cryptic clues for her daughter to follow. How can Lina leave without figuring out what her mother wanted to tell her?
Love & Gelato is an anomaly because while the mother is absent, she is also present throughout every aspect of this novel. Sometimes mothers are killed in fiction just for the emotional impact before being tossed to one side as an afterthought, but Lina never forgets her mother. Lina’s entire story in Italy is predicated on her mother and the mystery left behind, which is beautiful. Love & Gelato take a look at family relationships and then expand upon them. Whether they’re the newfound father who’s trying to be both respectful and supportive, the mother who loved her daughter more than love itself, or the daughter who doesn’t want to be cruel, but is dealing with her own pain that feels insurmountable at times.
Can there be a future for Lina in Florence? In order to figure out her own feelings, she’ll have to go back and figure out her mother’s feelings sixteen years ago.
Lucky for Lina, she happens to have a friend who’s willing to help her track down leads from over a decade ago. But is it fair to Ren to drag him along to all these places? And when Lina does find all her answers, what if she doesn’t like them?
With an earnestness that tugs you along for the ride, Love & Gelato is not to be missed.
As sweet and satisfying as its namesakes.