For the past few years, I’ve had a couple of books by Rebecca Serle on my radar. I’ve been planning to read both In Five Years and The Dinner List, but alas, I haven’t gotten to them yet. Even so, I was excited for her forthcoming novel, One Italian Summer, due out in March. I was thrilled when I was approved for an ARC of it on NetGalley earlier this week, so I dove in right away.
|One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle|
|Number of Pages||272|
|Format I Read||eBook (NetGalley ARC)|
|Original Publication Date||March 1, 2022|
The New York Times bestselling author of the “heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hard to put down” (Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author) modern classic In Five Years returns with a moving and unforgettable exploration of the powerful bond between mother and daughter set on the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.
When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.
But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.
And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.
Rebecca Serle’s next great love story is here, and this time it’s between a mother and a daughter. With her signature “heartbreaking, redemptive, and authentic” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Serle has crafted a transcendent novel about how we move on after loss, and how the people we love never truly leave us.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
First and foremost, I love the premise of One Italian Summer. It’s a love story, but instead of a romantic couple, it’s about the bond between a mother and daughter. This is the first relationship we have when we’re born, and it remains one of the most important ones in our lives. I was excited to see a novel which focuses on that relationship, but moreover, gives a daughter the chance to see her mother as more than just a parent. Here, Katy gets an unexpected opportunity to get to know her mom, Carol, as she was at age 30, before she became an all-knowing mother and wife.
One Italian Summer is quite heavy, opening with the immediate aftermath of Carol’s death. Katy is grieving her mother, but she’s also going through an emotional breakdown and is ready to tear down other aspects of her life, too. Her whole life has revolved around her mother. More than her husband, she saw her mom as her soul mate, her rock, her reason for being. She doesn’t know who she even is now that her mom is gone. How will she carry on without her guidance? How will she make her own decisions, live her own life? In the midst of this identity crisis, Katy is ready to leave her husband. She’s questioning what they have and whether they were ever meant to be together.
Unable to process everything at home in Los Angeles, Katy decides to go on the trip she and her mother had planned. They’d arranged to go to Positano, on the Amalfi coast, the same place where Carol had spent a transformative summer before marrying and having Katy. If Carol had once found herself there, then perhaps Katy can find herself, too. At the very least, she can get some distance – literally and figuratively – from all the turmoil of the past several months. The warm weather and picture-perfect vacation hotspot don’t hurt.
Things take a strange and exhilarating turn when Katy finds that her mom is also in Positano… but she’s 30 years old, the age she was on that life-changing trip three decades ago. It’s unclear whether Carol jumped forward in time, Katy fell back in time, or if it’s something else altogether, but Katy is determined to spend as much time with her mom as possible. Never mind that Carol doesn’t realize she is Katy’s mom; Katy will get to know this woman as she was before motherhood. As a friend rather than a parent.
On the one hand, One Italian Summer rings true for me in some ways. I would not have been able to read it in the months or even first few years after my dad died. Like Katy in the novel, I found myself in a sunny European paradise after his death. However, in my case, I was already in Valencia, Spain when I heard the unexpected and devastating news. My dad had never been to Europe, and there was no time warp situation going on – no meeting a younger version of my dad in Spain! – but the chance to process things without my family, in a beautiful Mediterranean environment, is comparable to the novel.
However, despite the things I like about One Italian Summer – indeed, the things that drew me to it and that I could even relate to on some level – and although it was generally a pleasant read, there were several things that frustrated me.
Throughout my reading, I wavered between feeling compassionate towards Katy and annoyed by her. Losing a parent, or any loved one, is crushing. Going through an emotional breakdown or an identity crisis is normal, especially after such loss. But what bothered me was Katy’s apparent inability to think for herself. She couldn’t make any decisions, big or small, without her mom’s input. She lived her life too narrowly, too within her comfort zone, and seemed content to never go beyond the leash to which she was attached. Katy seemed to be co-dependent on her mom, and from my perspective, their relationship went beyond a close, loving bond and moved into potentially unhealthy territory. And the fact that Katy is already 30 herself made it even more aggravating. How does a grown woman not know how to function as an adult? She can’t cook, pick out her own clothes, or figure out if she wants kids yet. Her mother does everything for her and Katy allows Carol to think for her.
I also had a hard time understanding Katy’s urge to destroy everything left in her life, starting with her marriage. Why not lean on your spouse during such difficult times? Instead, she suggests divorce and flees the country before having a proper conversation with her husband.
Then, instead of focusing on herself, she starts up a possible summer fling with a man at her hotel. Is that really the best time for romance? A week after losing her mom, days after contemplating how much her relationship of eight years matters? Katy’s vacation romance was not only unnecessary in this book, it also detracted from the main story. He was a good character, and I think he offered important perspectives for Katy. But I didn’t really want to read a romance with some stranger while Katy’s husband is back home and her mom just died.
Instead, I would have liked to see more focus on Katy getting to know 30-year-old Carol. I would have liked to see more of a clear contrast between the mother she knew and the woman Carol had been. I wish this book had focused more on that mother-daughter relationship and the strange friendship Katy developed with 30-year-old Carol. Alas, something about it felt incomplete and not entirely compelling. This is partially because of how much time is allotted to the ill-timed romance.
On the other hand, I did enjoy the opportunity to get to know Positano like I was a tourist there myself. I love the descriptions of the one-way street on the hill and the shimmering water, the cozy restaurants and picturesque views. It transported me back to Italy (though I haven’t been to the Amalfi coast yet), letting the setting serve as a sort of character in its own right.
Katy’s interactions with the Italians running the hotel seemed rather unrealistic. Of course, her seeing a far younger version of her mom does make One Italian Summer a fantasy in some respects, so I’ll let that slide. The time warp – time travel? – isn’t ever explained, and it’s not until the end that you’re really sure what the exact situation is. What year is it? Who’s been transported in time? Has time simply collapsed on itself, letting two different years play out simultaneously? I did find it odd how unobservant Katy was during that whole week and how she never noticed what exactly has happening. It seems that she should have connected the dots far sooner.
Despite the meandering plot, I do like how One Italian Summer wraps up. It’s evident that Katy has grown as a person and is ready to tackle life – and her relationships – like an adult. She has gained perspective and seems to be ready to make the right choices, and I appreciate where it ends.
One Italian Summer reads like a sort of dream, but while it offers a wonderful concept and some memorable lines, the whole of the novel didn’t fully capture me or feel convincing. It’s a fine book, and a quick read, but ultimately perhaps not for me. Nonetheless, I still intend to read Rebecca Serle’s previous two adult novels and am optimistic I’ll enjoy them more.
About the Author
Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives in New York and Los Angeles. Serle codeveloped the hit TV adaptation of her YA series Famous in Love, and is also the author of The Dinner List, and YA novels The Edge of Falling and When You Were Mine. She received her MFA from the New School in NYC.